Embrace, love people is advice to Hispanic leaders at 'Heart to Heart Talk' in Ferguson

The Heart to Heart Talk — una charla, Corazón a Corazón — grew out of curiosity mainly, arising from the juxtaposition of the national Hispanic ministry conference at the Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel to Ferguson, just five miles away, and violence there starting with the shooting death of African-American Michael Brown by a white police officer just about two years ago.

Conference attendees wanted to talk about issues raised by Ferguson, so where better to do it than in Ferguson? Then, recent events brought the main issue of Ferguson — racial injustice — back to the forefront, with two police officer-involved shooting deaths followed by sniper killings of five officers in Dallas, and what's been called an "ambush" shooting in which a Ballwin officer was paralyzed and an "assassination" of three more officers in Baton Rouge, La.

So, Corazón a Corazón ended up being far more than an insider's view of Ferguson from Father Art Cavitt of the St. Charles Lwanga Center and Our Lady of Guadalupe pastoral associate Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, and pastor Father John O'Brien. About 100 attendees of the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors for Hispanic Ministry conference came out for the trio's presentation July 19 at Ferguson Brewing Company.

Included in the crowd was Father Kevin Kenney, a priest from the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul with intimate knowledge of the recent officer-involved shooting in Falcon Heights, Minn. The police officer who killed an African-American man in a traffic stop is Latino, and he grew up in the parish where Father Kenney was pastor for 11 years — Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul.

"I've known the Latino officer since he was a little child growing up," said Father Kenney, now pastor at Divine Mercy Parish in Faribault, Minn. He called the officer "a good guy," who sometimes confided in him. "His first breakup with a girlfriend he talked to me," he said, adding that since the shooting he has spoken with the officer's mother but not him.

The girlfriend of victim Philando Castile live-streamed the gruesome aftermath of the shooting, dispassionately describing what happened and was happening while Castile sat groaning and dying in the driver's seat next to her. Before being shot, Castile told the officer he had a firearm and a concealed-carry permit, and in the video, the seemingly distraught officer exclaims, "I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hand off it!"

The last few weeks "have been hard," said Father Kenney, who told the crowd at Corazón a Corazón "we need to stop the killing that's going on. ... We need to continue to pray for peace, for peace in our world today."

Prayers are answered when people stand together in peace, such as at the monthly Faith in Ferguson gatherings for a year after Brown's death or in the outpouring of sympathy from Minnesota Catholics after Castile's death. Recently installed Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda celebrated a Mass for mass for peace and justice the day after the shooting. Then, Valerie Castile, the victim's mother, set an example of peace.

"She called Cathedral of St. Paul and asked, even though they're Baptist, if they could have the funeral at the cathedral as a source of unity and peace, not wanting violence for their son but to bring people together," Father Kenney said.

The unity exemplified by Valerie Castile is the solidarity of the universal Catholic Church. Regardless of race or ethnicity, people stand together as one, which was the lesson of Corazón a Corazón.

"We're all sister, brother and mother to Jesus Christ," Father Kenney said. "We need to go out to the people and continue to embrace them and love them for who they area no matter who they are." 

Hispanic Ministry
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