“The blood is running in the streets of St. Louis.”
Those words from Rev. Dr. Lynden Bowie, pastor of Zion Traveler Missionary Baptist Church, serve as a reality check of what’s been occurring in our city, especially in recent months. Bowie was one of about a dozen faith leaders who spoke at an interfaith prayer service led by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson Oct. 27 at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School, calling on prayer for an end to the gun violence that has taken the lives of many people, including innocent children.
“We must gather together in these troubled times and beg God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness,” Archbishop Carlson said at the prayer service. “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, 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.”
In August, 7-year-old Xavier Usanga was fatally shot while playing outside his home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of north St. Louis. The Usanga family, who attend Most Holy Trinity Parish, lost their only remaining son. Two of his brothers died earlier in infancy.
At a prayer vigil outside the family’s home, Xavier’s grandmother Mary Norwood made an impassioned plea to communities affected by violence to renew efforts to organize neighborhoods and look out for one another. “My wish for everybody out here is that we start looking around and taking responsibility for your neighborhood,” she said. “Form those committees and say how are we going to improve our neighborhoods. We’ve got to leave the world better than when we got it.”
Numerous efforts have been made to address these violent acts. Nonprofit Better Family Life, which has partnered with several Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, should be commended for it’s front-line program aimed at de-escalating conflicts among individuals that oftentimes turn deadly. In October, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved $5 million to implement a new program called Cure Violence. The program, which similarly trains people how to de-escalate potentially violent situations, has been used in other U.S. cities to prevent gun violence and homicides.
What we all need to understand is that even if gun violence hasn’t affected us personally, it’s still our issue to deal with collectively. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who spoke at the interfaith prayer service, noted that children and parents these days are overwhelmed with stress. 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.” She also called for greater attention to creating positive alternatives at home, and in our schools, churches and communities.
“It’s times like this we all have to try a little harder, do a little more,” she said.
Some of us might be called to take action, but all of us should be responding to the call to prayer for this critical situation in St. Louis. Because action simply cannot be absent of prayer. We must call on God to help lead the way in overcoming these acts of violence.
“Unless we sprinkle some prayer over the top of these efforts, they will come to nothing,” Rev. Bowie said.