Archbishop Carlson calls for peace as grand jury says no indictment for Ferguson police officer

Lisa Johnston |
For more than three months, Ferguson and area residents nervously have awaited the St. Louis County grand jury decision whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

On Nov. 24, the decision came down: no indictment.

With the decision, the concern shifts to what will happen in the coming hours, days and weeks.

• Will the violence and looting in the aftermath of Brown's death be repeated? A QuikTrip, about a quarter mile from the shooting site on Canfield Drive, was looted, then burned Aug. 10. Other businesses on West Florissant Avenue and on Chambers Road in Dellwood were looted and have been boarded up since.

• Will the violence escalate with demonstrations planned throughout the area? Businesses along nearby South Florissant Road have been boarded up for about a week as a preventative measure. Governor Jay Nixon already has called out the National Guard, which St. Louis Major Francis Slay said will serve secondarily to back up police officers — sans riot gear — engaging and speaking with the protesters.

• Or will peace rule among the inevitable protests? Numerous civic and religious leaders, including Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Brown's family, have called for peace in the past few months.

Archbishop Carlson again issued the call after the grand jury rendered its ruling. He spoke to those who came to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Perish in Ferguson for a prayer service the evening of Nov. 24.

"I implore each of you: Choose peace!" said Archbishop Carlson, who prayed at the memorial site for Brown in the days after the shooting and led a Rosary on Nov. 5 in January-Wabash Park. "Reject any false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence. Let's work for a better, stronger, more holy community— one founded upon respect for each other, respect for life, and our shared responsibility for the common good."

With the decision to not indict Wilson, some might be tempted to lash out with anger and violence similar to what occurred in August.

"I know that many feel hurt, betrayed, forgotten and powerless," Archbishop Carlson said. "I know anger, disappointment, resentment and fear abound in our community at this moment, but we must accept this decision as the proper functioning of our justice system. ... We all want justice, so we should respect the integrity of our system of justice as something that aims for the common good. This grand jury decision is not an excuse for more violence.

"Now is the time to channel emotions in a way that helps build up our community, to become more active in your church or religious community, to volunteer at a food pantry or community service organization, to take part in political activity, to mentor a young person.

"Whatever you do, do not lash out with violence at your brothers and sisters. Do not seek to destroy or divide. Instead, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness if we are to obtain peace. Rather than fuel the fires of hatred and division, we should strive for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us. Violence does not lead to peace; they are opposing forces and cannot co-exist."

Archbishop Carlson cited St. John Paul II, who early in his pontificate visited then war-torn Ireland and called for peace, as have leaders in many situations in recent history — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa, among others. St. John Paul decried years of war in Ireland, saying: "Violence is evil. ... Violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems."

"How true this saint's words are," Archbishop Carlson said. "He didn't merely condemn violence; he also aptly described the depravity of violent behavior by saying: 'Violence is unworthy of man. ... Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings. Violence is a crime against humanity, for it destroys the very fabric of society.'"

Archbishop Carlson issued challenges — for us to love one another and be examples for children in our homes; for young people to sow seeds of reconciliation, dignity, honor and respect rather than "sowing seeds of division, resentment, and discontent"; and for everyone to pray.

"Pray unceasingly for peace," he said. "Pray for our leaders and pray for your neighbors. If you feel called to act, do so only after prayer."

He noted that Blessed Teresa spent an hour in prayer each day before her service to others. "So, too, must it be for us," he said.

Archbishop Carlson also called on religious, political, social and law enforcement leaders "to combat the brokenness and division that confronts us. We must be leaders who help heal, not inflict hurt. We must be leaders who can come together to address issues like family breakdown, racial profiling, quality education, abuses of authority, lack of gainful employment, fear of one another, mistrust of authority and many other needs. We must ask the tough questions and find lasting solutions."

Much of the infrastructure already is in place for the Catholic Church to address the wounds exposed by the strife in Ferguson. Catholic Charities of St. Louis and the St. Vincent de Paul Society were active in the Ferguson area working with the disadvantaged before Brown's death. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes have vibrant elementary schools, and Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory and Trinity Catholic High School educate teens in North County. And the St. Charles Lwanga Center has been serving parishes in north city and north county for almost 40 years.

Under the guidance of then-Archbishop Joseph Ritter, the Archdiocese of St. Louis was a leader in civil rights by integrating its schools almost 70 years ago, in 1947 — a full seven years before the Supreme Court Brown vs. Education Department case did so for public schools in the United States.

"Long-term solutions will ultimately come about when we are quick to apologize for our faults, and quick to forgive the faults of others," said Archbishop Carlson, who urged continued prayers for Brown, his family and friends as well as for Wilson, his family and friends.

"Both families need prayers now more than ever," he said. "With profound hope in the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the intercession of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, I ask all the faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Louis as well as all people of faith to join me in praying for peace and justice in our community." 

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