Father Rosy seeks to sow seeds of peace and justice in Ferguson and beyond

Weston Kenney | westonkenney@archstl.org

Since August 2014, Father Robert Rosebrough's message has remained consistent, that the racial issues and tension unleashed after the shooting death of Michael Brown lurk just below the surface throughout the St. Louis area.

West St. Louis County, south St. Louis County, St. Charles County and beyond, no area is immune from racial issues, even though African-Americans comprise small percentages of the populations. Yet, many in those communities view racial strife and violence in the wake of Brown's death as Ferguson problems, isolated incidents, unrelated to life in predominantly white neighborhoods.

So, mostly, Father Rosy's message falls on deaf ears, leaving "sadness, disappointment and frustration" for the messenger. But recently, a member of his mini-mission team at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parish articulated why people might view it this way.

"She said, 'They're just so insulated; they've become insulated with many, many layers,'" the Blessed Teresa pastor said in the reflection at the latest Faith In Ferguson prayer service, June 2 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

In essence, his message hasn't been getting through the insulation to the hearts deep inside.

"Wow. That made sense to me," he said. "It's interesting because Jesus faced the same insulation when He walked among the crowds in Galilee and Jerusalem and reached out beyond the borders of propriety and welcomed the sinners, the downtrodden, the sick and neglected people of his time."

Jesus turned the rules of convention upside down. The rich and powerful and the poor and powerless had "accepted the belief 'That is just the way it is,'" Father Rosy said. "Jesus came into the midst of the people and said by His words and actions, 'That is not the way it is.'"

In the past 10 months, Father Rosy has called on people to "lean in" and really listen to one another, literally leaning forward physically to better hear but figuratively to better understand what others are saying. Like Jesus.

"He leaned into every situation with His heart of love," Father Rosy said, relating parables about a leper, the Samaritan woman, the woman washing his feet at Simon's home and a centurion's servant. "He crossed the layers of blind acceptance and hopelessness and brought hope and light.

"Jesus leaned in, again and again and again. Finally, from the cross, He leaned in again to forgive sins, once and for all."

And what does this all mean at this time and in this place?

"We are His disciples, called to lean in with His Word, His Love and, many times, His forgiveness, again and again," he said.

Father Rosebrough has called Ferguson "the new Bethlehem," from which "His Word radiates to unwrap the layers of insulation to reach the hearts of others." For example, he cited Dennis Foster of Ferguson.

Shot in the face by his brother, Foster was down in the middle of the street, bleeding profusely, with the scene unsafe for medical personnel. But Ferguson police Sgt. Mike Wood willfully and quickly entered the fray, slung Foster over his shoulder and ran a half-block to safety and, more importantly, medical help. The heroic rescue prompted a change of heart about police by Foster, who was grateful that Wood risked his life to save his.

Father Rosy also shared the story about a recent golf outing, which at first frustrated him but ultimately gave him hope. Though a member of his foursome initially believed racial issues to be just a Ferguson problem, he later came around to the concept of "white privilege."

"It dawned on him that he was privileged, even though he did nothing to have those rights; it was just because he was white," Father Rosy said. "For the first time, he grasped what the whole eruption was about."

So, Father Rosebrough forges on. Though disappointed and frustrated at times, he delivers his message, planting seeds he hopes will ultimately blossom.

"We cannot fall back into the old view of seeing things, and say, 'That is just the way it is,'" he said. "Like Jesus, we need to lean in, speaking on the behalf of those not included, and cross the borders. We are seeds of peace and justice."

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