“Strip away pride, suspicion and racism so that we may seek peace and justice in our communities,” Bishop Malooly prayed at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington Sept. 9.
He was leading an ecumenical prayer service the U.S. bishops called for during the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.
The national event was scheduled in response to recent “racially-related shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas,” Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB said in July.
Ministers of other faith communities joined Bishop Malooly at the cathedral for the service, along with priests, deacons, parishioners and students of the diocese.
The bishop said Sept. 9 was picked for the national day of prayers because it’s the feast day of St. Peter Claver, a patron saint of African peoples and the patron of the Knights and Ladies Auxiliary of Peter Claver in the diocese at St. Joseph Church.
Bishop Malooly noted that at St. Peter Claver Parish in Baltimore City, parishioners had started a dialogue with city police and staged peace walks four years before the Freddie Gray tragedy in the area.
“They’ve been doing many things since then to try to bring people together, the bishop said. “It’s something that’s very important.”
The first reading at the service from the Book of Genesis recalled that everything in God’s creation was good, including mankind created in God’s image.
“But then sin came” and rejection came from man, the bishop noted.
The bishop told a personal story exemplifying the fall.
“Ten years ago, I was held up at gunpoint in Baltimore City,” he said. Because he had recently served on a jury, he recognized the gun as a quick-trigger gun.
“I gave the two young fellows, they were 15 and 16, a couple of dollars I had. Then I walked away and heard a gun go off about three blocks later.”
One of the robbers had shot himself in the leg.
The bishop encountered the young men a month later in a courtroom. Then he saw two women crying on a bench “holding hands and sobbing.” They were the boys’ mothers.
“They had tried everything they could to keep them on the narrow and right path, but the drug culture and crime-ridden area of East Baltimore was just too much.
“We have to try to make everything good again,” Bishop Malooly said.
The second reading of the service quoted St. Paul’s words to the Galatians, that through baptism, “there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female, for you are one in Christ.”
The message is clear, the bishop said. “It is so important to look at every individual person and not put anybody into a category but to recognize each person is a creation of God and try to make their place in life a little bit better.”
The Gospel from John at the service recounted Jesus telling his disciples that the father would send them the Holy Spirit to “teach you everything and remind you of all I have told you.”
The message not to be afraid and that the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples applies to us in our lives of service and ministry to others, the bishop said.
To build peace in our community, Bishop Malooly recommended three things to do as individuals, as faith communities and as parishes — prayer, conversation and ministry.
“Let us always be conscious of God’s presence and the importance of sharing prayer with one another,” the bishop said.
“Conversation is important. It’s what’s been happening at St. Peter Claver in Baltimore, a longstanding tradition of having the police and citizens speak to each other. Listen and try to understand where people are, what’s difficult for them.”
As for ministry, the bishop noted that “our various congregations within the city do many things. We take care of the poor; we have schools and a hospital not far from here. We have health resources; we have food pantries. We do a lot of these things because we are Christians.”
Bishop Malooly quoted Pope Francis on mission and mercy: “God’s mercy is infectious and must be shared with others. Mercy is a journey that departs from the heart to arrive at the hands.”
‘Too much violence’
Following the service Rev. Bob Hall, executive director of United Methodist Church Peninsula Delaware Conference, hailed the multi-faith service.
“We have to engage in ecumenical activities; it’s important because the Lord has directed us to do it.
“In this cause, bringing the faith community into play on the problems of racism and violence — it can’t be more important. Who’s going to do it, if we don’t?”
Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Joseph’s in Wilmington and head of the diocesan Ministry for Black Catholics, called the prayer service is a good start.
“I’m praying it will be because there’s too much violence here in Wilmington for it being such a small town. If you want to stop something like this, first of all get on your knees and beg for God’s mercy and grace, because it’s his grace that will strengthen us to be able to make a change in our society.”
Communication is crucial in peace making, Father Williams said, “because without dialogue everything remains the same. The community needs to be able to trust the police and the police need to be able to trust the community.”
At St. Joseph’s, the pastor said, “We work with Urban Promise (a citywide ecumenical organization)” to provide programs year-round for young people in the neighborhood.
“Every year we have a major coat drive where we give a coat to the children in the neighborhood. And we just recently had a backpack program for the start of school.”
Brenda Burns, a St. Joseph parishioner and member of the Peter Claver Auxiliary at the parish, said that the community needs “to continue with conversation and dialogue between all the denominations that were here and those that are not here. We have to get control of our neighborhoods. We have to teach our children how to have better coping skills and deal with adversity.
“That’s what it will take — prayer, conversation and implementing a positive plan.”
Creating peace, racial and otherwise is “a complex issue,” said Deacon Robert Cousar, who ministers at St. Joseph’s.
The quest to end violence and racism “has to translate into mutual respect, more dialogue, getting to know people rather than allowing cultural stereotypes to inhibit our relationships and create fear,” said the deacon.
“People avoid the issue, even talking about it. It comes to the point where we need to collaborate. I can’t answer for the community but I know there must be more dialogue than there has been.
“A lot of people have a judgment on the Black Lives Matter movement. But not all the people are racist. Their primary point is that many African-Americans feel devalued, feel that they have no worth in the eyes of the majority.
“We’ve been subject to benign neglect. It’s no longer benign but the [lack] of black jobs in the community, the mass incarceration rate that we’re seeing, the lack of resources for mental health, the three strikes you’re out [sentencing]. How can a person live with no support, no resources whatever.
“We need more people willing to engage and dialogue, willing to reach out to the African-American community without being judgmental when protests arise over police brutality. Many African-Americans are in law enforcement. We rely upon that service and protection and we appreciate their dedication and the risks that they take every day. I just ask people not to be so judgmental but to try to put themselves in other people’s shoes.”