Approximately 400 people stood prayerfully and silently along a four-block section of Grand Avenue south of Interstate 44 in St. Louis June 5 holding
signs such as “Work Against the Sin of Racism,” “Pray for Peace” and “Racism Is Ungodly.”
Motorists honked their horns as they passed the demonstration sponsored by the social equity team of the Living Justice Commission at St. Margaret of
Scotland Parish. The majority of the people on both sides of the street were members of the parish. They stood for George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, and for other victims of encounters with police.
“We’re all children of God,” said Shannon Grass, a parishioner who came with her husband, John, and their two children. “Hatred is not Catholic, and neither is sitting silently while people are treated with hatred.”
The Grass family watched a video message from their pastor, Father Matthew O’Toole, regarding a blindness to the frequent episodes of discrimination people of color experience. Shannon Grass said it motivated them to stand up. “We’re incredibly proud to be part of this faith community. It has stood up for social and racial justice for a long time,” she said.
John Grass said that “we’re being called upon to help change what has been hurtful for thousands of years. As white people, it’s time for us to become more vocal.”
Father O’Toole said that his parishioners appreciate living in a diverse neighborhood, but that may lead to complacency. Everyone is not treated equally, and more needs to be done to end exclusion and the sin of racism, he said.
Gerry Rauch, a member of the organizing team, said “we wanted our brothers and sisters of color to understand that we are outraged by the killings, that we understand that we need systemic change and that they know we are behind them.”
The silent witness shows a determination that they will work for change in society and the Church, Rauch said. Church teaching on racism is strong,
and pastors need support when they teach about it, she said.
Sarah Rebholz was one of the early arrivals, lending support to the leaders of the effort. The parishioners wanted to stand up with victims of racism as people of faith, she said, and counter “systems of racism in society. They are not alone in this fight.”
The matter is important to Catholics, she said, because it is a human dignity issue. “When some people are seen as undignified and not worthy of respect, that’s an issue.”
Kathleen Puhr, also from St. Margaret, said “the central message of the Gospel is love one another, and this is what this is all about. Four hundred years is long enough for this kind of oppression. The fact that all these cars are honking (in support) suggests how powerful the words are and what needs to happen.”
Sister Maureen Fitzerald, an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, stood near Flora and Grand Avenues. “We were all born in the image of God and should proclaim that louder so everyone lives with the same privilege,” she said.
Stefani Weeden-Smith and her daughter Zora Camille, parishioners at St. Francis Xavier (College Church), stood on a hill behind the sidewalk near Compton Heights Christian Church. “We wanted to show our support to continue to put some light to this injustice,” she said. Zora said that she is fearful that a police officer could harm her because of the color of her skin. “I could die,” she said.
Eleatha Surratt, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock Church), said “I came because this is a silent prayer hour. Prayer, I believe, is what will get us through.”
Eliza French, an incoming freshman at Nerinx Hall High School and St. Gabriel parishioner, said “there needs to be a change. People need to see that what has been happening is wrong.”
An African-American woman walked by the demonstrators, telling them “we appreciate it from the bottom of our heart.” Her comment was met with a reply, “We’re with you.”