Fostering hope, prayer and community in Ferguson

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With the one-year anniversary of that fateful August day just around the corner, the city of Ferguson put its best foot forward on the last full weekend of July.

The Ferguson Ministerial Alliance, an ecumenical group including Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, sponsored a "Day of Hope" at Forestwood Park, giving visitors not only free goods, food and services but also an opportunity to pray.

"People in our community are hurting; we're trying to give them a place where they feel wanted and loved, just to be there for each," said Emily Pellarin, a youth minister with Blessed Teresa's growing LifeTeen group. "We just want to love people. ... This is another way to care for people."

And, hopefully, a way to stem a repeat of the violence that followed the shooting death of Michael Brown last year on Aug. 9 and the exoneration of police officer Darren Wilson by a St. Louis County grand jury on Nov. 24. The death and the grand-jury ruling released pent-up racial tension -- Brown was black, Wilson is white -- and left destruction in its wake.

Almost two-dozen businesses in Ferguson and neighboring communities were destroyed by fire, with many more looted when peaceful protests turned violent. Media reported two police vehicles were burned, but many more were damaged. The unrest cost St. Louis County taxpayers more than $4 million, the largest chunk -- about $2.6 million -- in police overtime.

What will happen come Sunday, Aug. 9, is anybody's guess. Will there be peaceful protests to commemorate the anniversary of Brown's death? Or will there be a reprise of the violence last summer and fall?

"I have no fear about people inside Ferguson here," said Father Robert Rosebrough, the Blessed Teresa pastor. "But people from the outside ... I'm hoping enough things have happened already, just some of the good things -- the conversations I'm hearing, people starting businesses."

In the past year, Father Rosebrough has been among Archdiocese of St. Louis clergy and religious offering pastoral care in Ferguson. He has led prayer services and Rosaries, preached about the issues of racisms and poverty, and hosted bridge-building dinners. Mostly, he has listened -- "leaned in," as he has said, to physically lean forward and really hear what others are saying about the void separating the Anglo-American and African-American communities.

Community events such as the "Day of Hope" and the Ferguson 1000 Jobs Hiring Event the previous weekend might blunt the violence.

"It's like pouring fresh water into a glass that has red color in it," said Aeneas Williams, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, former St. Louis Ram and now pastor of Spirit Church in Ferguson. "The more you pour water in it, the red eventually goes out.

"You can't be afraid and wonder what is going to happen with the unknown. What you can do is events like this and come out to serve. It's no one particular group. It's churches, interfaith and other resources in the community. There's so much available for people that they didn't know about.

"One of the biggest things is job readiness, connecting 18-25 year-olds with jobs. Otherwise they feel hopeless, like people don't care."

"Day of Hope" included a huge area for Jobs & Career Services, as well as areas for health services, cancer screenings and community services such as banks and churches. In addition, portraits, haircuts and shoes were offered free of charge, along with food and groceries.

Also, prayer -- both arriving and departing.

Father Rosebrough offered an impromptu prayer of blessing when perhaps the youngest in attendance, 7-week old Skylar Hughes, came up in his grandmother Lula's arms with mother, Teresa, beside them to the Ministerial Alliance table.

Father Rosebrough placed his right hand above Skylar's head.

"Lord, bless Skylar," he prayed. "We ask that You fill his life with love and kindness. We ask this through Christ Our Lord ..."

The Hughes family and Father Rosy then chimed in unison, "Amen!"

"Thank you," Teresa Hughes said, before kibitzing with Father Rosebrough for a bit, learning about the alliance and leaving with a Blessed Teresa bulletin.

"It's great that everybody is coming together," Lula Hughes said.

Later, at the exit, Pellarin and youth minister cohort Ashley Dean were among volunteers available with whom people could pray if they chose. One group included a mother who had lost a child by violence. Pellarin and Dean prayed for the intercessions of Mary, who lost a Son herself, and Joseph, who cared and provided for Mary and Jesus.

"If we can give them food, praise the Lord; when we can pray with them, that's awesome," Pellarin said.

Ferguson: One year later

Faith in Ferguson • Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, 4:30 p.m., Aug. 5, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 1115 South Florissant Road, Ferguson 63121

Mass for Peace & Justice • Archbishop Carlson, Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice, Peace and Justice Commission, 10 a.m., Aug. 9, Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4431 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis 63108

Ecumenical Prayer Service for the Anniversary • Father John O'Brien, Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, 1 p.m., Aug. 9, Our Lady of Guadalupe Grotto, 1115 South Florissant Road, Ferguson 63121 (in church in the event of rain)

United Prayer for Peace • Sister Antona Ebo, FSM, 3 p.m., Aug. 9, Pallottine Renewal Center, 15270 Old Halls Ferry Road, Florissant 63034 

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