'Encountering and walking with' people has positive effect in Ferguson

The ministers attending ecumenical prayer services in Ferguson and Florissant on top of a year of prayer gave Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, reason for optimism Aug. 9.

"Because of all the praying and everything, people are coming together," she said. "All the ministers coming together and praying with our congregations and listening. ... People have been praying together and being together all year.

"That's what people are talking about."

Until the night of Aug. 9, however. On that night, a man was shot by police after allegedly shooting at them, and there were more skirmishes and standoffs between protesters and police. The scene was reminiscent of the violence a year ago after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

The prayer services commemorated the one-year anniversary of Brown's death, which was followed by violence, looting and arson that turned about a third-of-a-mile stretch of West Florissant Avenue into something akin to a war zone.

The shooting this year threatened to undo the work of rebuilding in the past year, but after a few dust-ups on the night of Aug. 10, the area appeared to calm down by the night of the 11th.

Sister Cathy, the pastoral associate at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, described the violent interlude "as a little step back," as opposed to a gigantic step backward and a return to Square One.

"I think people are judging it different now," she said, describing the mayhem after Brown's death the previous year as "pure chaos."

This time, the Ferguson area and the region had a year of prayer and brotherhood under their belts as an inoculation against the violence.

"Everyone is ready to go back on target," Sister Cathy said. "The anger might still be there, but we're working together on issues of racism and justice. People are talking in small groups, different cultures are coming together. We're starting to see the fruits of what happened a year ago."

As an example, Sister Cathy cited the "Faith in Ferguson" prayer services at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"Look at the many Catholics who came to 'Faith in Ferguson' from other areas -- St. Charles and west county; they're making a difference, "she said. "That speaks a lot of where we're going as a Church. We have a long way to go yet, but I really believe like Pope Francis says, you encounter people and walk with them. People are taking that to heart."

The recent violence appeared to be only a hiccup, precipitated by outsiders -- principally agitators and media sent to cover them.

"Some of the protesters were there wanting to incite; the rest were calm," Sister Cathy said, adding that media coverage might "incite people to act up. People were expecting things to happen Thursday, Friday and Saturday night (before Aug. 9), but nothing happened. They're just waiting for something to happen."

At mid-day Aug. 11, the only signs of anything being amiss in Ferguson were the media tents, satellite trucks, techs and talent camped out across South Florissant Road from the police department. There were no protesters to be found, just the media. On West Florissant, two camera crews interviewed the two people on the street; the crew members outnumbered the people four to two.

Otherwise, cars drove along West Florissant, people shopped or ate at the restaurants, and a couple of road crews worked on the roads. All was quiet; it could have been Anytown U.S.A. except for the media across from the police station.

"If the trucks and cameras were to leave, the city would get back on track," Sister Cathy said.

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