Calling on God to lead the way, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson began a prayer service asking for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness for recent acts of gun violence that have affected St. Louis.
The interfaith prayer service, held on the football field Oct. 27 at Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School, brought together faith leaders from several denominations to pray for an end to gun violence in St. Louis. About 200 people observed from the bleachers on the crisp fall afternoon, as each faith leader briefly spoke about the issue that has plagued the city and claimed the lives of many young people. The North City Deanery Choir, Zion Travelers Praise Team and brother-and-sister duo Morgan and Braylon Taylor punctuated the service with praise and worship music.
“We must gather together in these troubled times and beg God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness,” Archbishop Carlson said. “Gun violence across our nation, and unfortunately here in the city of St. Louis, is taking the precious lives of people both young and old,” he said, “denying each one of us of the precious gifts and talents which they possess. These innocent lives are being taken from us, snuffed out — victims of evil.”
The archbishop also said that we must express with humility our inability thus far to stop the violence. He also asked God that we be “freed from the evil in our midst — this evil that has touched our lives and hearts.”
In October, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved $5 million to implement a new program called Cure Violence. The program, which trains people how to de-escalate potentially violent situations, has been used in other U.S. cities to prevent gun violence and homicides. It’s the latest effort among the many ways in which organizations and churches — including Catholic parishes in the archdiocese — have worked toward reducing violence in the city.
Faith leaders echoed one another in saying that actions must be partnered with prayer, and that the absence of God in our communities is a contributing factor of violent acts.
Citing the 1939 Billie Holiday song, “Strange Fruit,” which makes reference to the acts of racism and lynching of African-Americans in the American South, Rev. Dr. Lynden Bowie, pastor of Zion Traveler Missionary Baptist Church, said it calls to mind what is happening in St. Louis today.
“The blood is running in the streets of St. Louis,” he said. “And if that doesn’t turn our hearts, I don’t know what will. I think we’re here to say enough is enough. And what has happened is just too much.” Bowie also gave thanks to those who have worked to reduce violence in the city, adding, “we also realize that unless we sprinkle some prayer over the top of these efforts, they will come to nothing.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson presented a proclamation to Archbishop Carlson, recognizing and honoring those present at the prayer service, and marking Oct. 27 as Coming Together for Peace Day in the City of St. Louis.
“We are here today because we are hurting from the violence in our community,” Krewson said. She recited the names of children ages two through 16 years old who died this summer. “We are hurting, their families are hurting, and our community is hurting.”
Krewson called on everyone to talk to their children about what’s going on in their lives. “Our kids face enormous pressures today,” she said. “Our parents face big pressures, too. Our schools and in our neighborhoods, our families face many challenges. It’s stressful today to be a kid, stressful to be a parent, stressful to be a grandparent.”
These stressors contribute to the existence of gangs and violence in our communities, she noted. “Everyone wants to belong,” she said. “Everyone wants to be in a loving and caring home. And we all have to show our support for our kids. Because all of these kids are all of our kids. We need to show them that they are valued and important.”
Morgan and Braylon Taylor, siblings who performed a moving rendition of John Legend and Common’s “Glory,” which received a standing ovation from the crowd, said that unity is the key to overcoming gun violence.
“I think that we need to work together to figure out how to get this violence under control,” said 16-year-old Morgan Taylor “We should just love each other no matter what the issue is.”
Also attending the prayer service were numerous priests and women religious. Several Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help who were there said that members of their community work with children and have been involved in advocacy efforts to address gun control. They noted a resolution this summer passed by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to more closely examine injustices related to racism, immigration and climate change.
“We’re Franciscans, so being about peace and building relationships is really important to us,” said Sister Renita Brummer. “We believe gun violence is a critical pro-life issue today. We can’t say we’re pro-life if we’re not concerned about the violence. We believe it takes an ecumenical effort — all of us together.”