Catholics show solidarity with Ferguson community



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Sister Cathy Doherty, pastoral associate at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, stood inside the church doors and greeted people as they left Sunday Mass on Nov. 16.

One couple lingered for while to chat with the School Sister of Notre Dame, before she thanked them for coming and bid them farewell.

Patti and Philip O'Connell came to the Mass from Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant, about 13 miles north of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They wanted to show their support for the parishes in neighboring Ferguson -- Our Lady of Guadalupe and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. "Peace and Justice" was the theme of all Sunday Masses at the two parishes, with the O'Connells and others from throughout the archdiocese showing solidarity with Ferguson Catholics.

"We're very interested in what's happening in Ferguson and praying with people in the community," said Patti O'Connell, who is a bit more in tuned with the Ferguson happenings. She teaches at Blessed Teresa School. She called it "a beautiful Mass. A very diverse community."

Our Lady of Guadalupe has a robust Hispanic ministry, with two Sunday Masses in Spanish. The congregations at the Spanish Masses were standing-room only. The mood at the Spanish Masses was festive, with guitars, bongos and maracas accompanying the singing, hand-clapping and swaying. In the basement cafeteria, the parish held a luncheon fund-raiser featuring authentic Mexican foods.

The O'Connells and parishioners from Our Lady of Lourdes in University City, St. Joan of Arc in south St. Louis, Immacolata in Richmond Heights and Mary Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County were among those showing support over the weekend at Our Lady of Guadalupe or Blessed Teresa.

"The "Peace and Justice" Masses were just the latest of the Catholic Church's pastoral care in Ferguson in three months since the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta hosted a Rosary on a weekly basis from Aug. 11 through Oct. 27, and BTC pastor Father Robert "Rosy" Rosebrough organized an interfaith prayer procession from BTC to Ferguson City Hall. He along with Father Steve Robeson of Imperial walked with Jesse Jackson and others in a prayerful march a week after Brown's death.

The "Faith in Ferguson" Rosary and prayer service for archdiocesan priests and religious has been held monthly at January-Wabash Park. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice have presided over those gatherings, and independently, they visited and prayed at the memorial site for Brown on Canfield Drive a week after the shooting.

Bishop Rice described the scene as "heart-wrenching" after he visited Aug. 17. "It's devastating to the community," he said. "You can tell the people are hurting; you can just sense it as you walk through. You hear them crying out for justice and peace. It's devastating for them. It's almost like it broke the heart of the community."

On Aug. 20 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Archbishop Carlson celebrated a Votive Mass for Peace and Justice in Ferguson, reinstating the archdiocesan human rights commission and calling for the St. Charles Lwanga Center in North St. Louis to study the culture of violence and offer solutions. Archbishop Carlson and Bishop Rice have prayed for Brown, his family and friends, as well as police officer Darren Wilson, his family and friends. Wilson shot Brown after an altercation. A St. Louis County grand jury has been hearing testimony for the past three months, and will rule soon on whether to indict Wilson.

Archbishop Carlson has called for calm after the ruling whereas protests immediately after Brown's death turned violent.

"We need to turn to the Lord and ask God, with the power that he can bring to any situation, to bring about healing," Archbishop Carlson said in impromptu remarks at the Nov. 5 Faith in Ferguson. "Why? Because the alternative is violence. We want to pray that there is healing, but also to remember that we can't return to the status quo because things will never ever be the same. We also have to begin to deal with those issues that bring us here today. Praying day in and day out is a must."

In addition to prayer, the Catholic Church has been given tangible aid in the crisis, continuing the work that predated the shooting. For example, Trinity Catholic High School just north of Ferguson received a $100,000 grant for scholarships from the Annual Catholic Appeal. Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School received a $400,000 grant for scholarships over four years from Emerson. Catholic Charities of St. Louis was active in Ferguson even before Brown's death, and through its Community Services has assisted households in Ferguson by providing rental assistance, utility assistance and long-term case management. The St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at Blessed Teresa has been collecting and distributing food to the needy.

"Like the Archbishop said (at Faith in Ferguson), 'What would Jesus do?' Well, he's doing it," Sister Cathy said.

In the past. In the present. And in the future, as was evident to Sister Cathy when the Northeast Deanery Children's Choir sang at a Peace and Justice Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"It was perfect having the children here and talking about future and hope," Sister Cathy said. "It was just perfect."

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