“Out to the periphery … where God is found today” — this expression from Pope Francis for me states the mission of the church here and now.
On a Sunday afternoon last May, I walked into a church on North Market Street to pay respects to the family of Amy Joyner-Francis, a sophomore who had died of a beating in school, by other girls. Grief numbed her family, seated in the front row; the many students and parents seemed stunned. It was “what should not happen in our community.”
I thought back to a previous May when Manuel Ramirez, a father of three, a hard-working immigrant, was killed as he sat with his daughters after work beside his trailer, by an unknown assailant seeking revenge, who mistook him for someone else.
These killings occurred not far from my parish in miles. But they may as well have been in a different country.
The world of most of our suburbs is peaceful; even in a good way dull. A few miles away parts of our city and its adjacent poor neighborhoods are subject to random violence. We have two different worlds. Many of our children who inhabit these two different worlds are educated together in our public-school systems. They are all our children. They are dear to God. They must be dear to us.
Too long, most of us Catholics in the suburbs have lived unaware of the other brothers and sisters.
We have parish concerns at St. Catherine of Siena — property owner concerns, family concerns, zoning concerns, work concerns. Yet, we are part of a larger humanity. New Castle County Delaware, specifically that portion of Western Wilmington and its suburbs called the “Red Clay Consolidated School District” is the community where God has placed us. Twenty thousand children and teenagers and their families attend these schools. They come from very different backgrounds.
Because these persons matter to God, they matter to us. On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the day following Martin Luther King’s Birthday, and the eve of Christian Unity Week, pastors and members of 20 churches in this district will join in a service of prayer for Justice, Nonviolence and Respect for Human Dignity. Events of this past year involving the killing by police of unarmed African-American citizens, and of police by violent individuals, are in our minds. Our prayer service focuses on the conviction that the families and the churches of our area are irreplaceable for the work of the schools in shaping the character and minds of tomorrow’s adults.
Religion seems less important to modern people. Yet I know that only religious faith can penetrate the impenetrable heart of human beings who say, “I have all I need, what do I need from God?” or “I have lost everything, and my life is worthless, therefore I will attack others and take whatever I can.”
We will look into each other’s faces on January 17th, and see a brother and a sister whom we didn’t know. We will unite with one another in common prayer in one Body of Christ. We will take time to know each other’s hopes and concerns. Our peripheries will be joined. For, as Pope Francis has said, “God is a circle whose center is everywhere, and whose periphery is nowhere.”
Father Hynes is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wilmington.
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All are invited to the Jan. 17, 7 p.m. ecumenical service of prayer and witness for ‘Justice, Peace and Human Dignity’ in St. Catherine’s at 2503 Centerville Road, near Prices Corner, Wilmington. Reception to follow.