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Parishes invited to offer Lenten Stations of the Cross for gun violence victims

Parishes encouraged to offer Stations of the Cross March 1 for victims of gun violence

A newly formed archdiocesan Gun Violence Prevention Task Force is partnering with parishes to pray for victims of gun violence during Lent with the Stations of the Cross.

Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski has invited parishes to pray the Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 1, on behalf of all victims of domestic violence, suicide and gun violence. Last year, there were 280 gun-related deaths in the St. Louis area, according to the archdiocesan task force.

The task force has developed a guide for parishes featuring suggested prayers. Each station also includes the name and a brief description of a person who died from gun violence. Parishes are encouraged to find an approach to prayer that is suitable for their community.

“Lent is a time to break the chains of destruction that bind us as individuals and as a community,” Archbishop Rozanski wrote in a letter to priests that accompanied the guide. “It is a time to pray, give alms and fast, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of healing and redemption for all our brothers and sisters. By journeying together on the Way of the Cross, we grow in our union with Christ and in our sensitivity to His presence in all victims of violence.”

At the archdiocese’s first gun violence summit last July, the archbishop announced his hope for an archdiocesan task force to help parishes, schools and Catholics respond to the “critical issue” of gun violence.

“From the knowledge we gain here today and inspired by the teachings of Sacred Scripture and our Church tradition, I am hopeful that we can bring an effective pastoral response to this plague that so devastates our nation,” he said.

The archdiocesan task force began meeting last fall, led by Deacon Dan Fitzgerald, director of CYC Sports and retired Brentwood police chief. The task force includes priests, deacons, former law enforcement officers, healthcare workers, parents and educators.

The idea for the Stations of the Cross came from Gun Sense: For the Common Good, a ministry at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish formed not long after the 2022 shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis. One of the group’s first activities was to host a Lenten Stations of the Cross to pray for an end to gun violence. Each station featured a short reflection and prayer intention for a specific person who died from gun violence in the previous year.

“One of the things we wanted to do is to bear witness to the tragedy that we were witnessing in our neighborhoods,” said Dave Chilenski, a member of both the Gun Sense ministry at St. Margaret of Scotland and the archdiocesan task force. “Christ’s passion and death gave us a sense that we could use the stations to shine a light on these tragedies we were witnessing.”

Feedback from attendees was positive. “People told us the stations were powerful and impactful,” Chilenski said. In considering a similar prayer event for all parishes of the archdiocese, members of the task force wanted to make sure that the prayer intentions included people from different areas of the archdiocese who died from various circumstances, including suicide, domestic violence, unintentional shootings and other homicides.

The stations can be an opportunity for mourning and remembrance, Chilenski said, but as people of faith, it should be a reminder that Christ’s passion and death ultimately lead us to the hope found at Easter.

“Our prayer gives us that fuel that we can right these changes and pull our community together,” he said. “One thing our Catholic faith gives us is prayer, and the stations can give us hope and look toward Easter. Our goal as Catholics and Christians is to work toward a better day for tomorrow.”

Deacon Fitzgerald said the task force is developing a website and other materials, such as an information card for law enforcement officers to give to those affected by gun violence-related trauma, information on obtaining gun locks and other practical and spiritual resources.

“We’d like to be of service to people to help find resources,” Deacon Fitzgerald said. “This is about gun awareness and gun safety — that’s our main focus. It’s a respect for life issue above all things, and it’s something that we all need to be aware of and be praying for people who are going through this.”

Below is a sample of the wording provided by the Gun Violence task force that is used during the eighth station in the Stations of the Cross.

LEADER: We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.

ALL: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

LEADER: Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children ...” (Luke 23:28)

Jacquelyn, 39, of St. Charles, was last seen leaving a restaurant alone after work. Her body was found a week later inside a Maryland Heights apartment. One person has been taken into custody and charged with her death. 

(Light Candle)

ALL: Christ Jesus, you warned the women you encountered not to weep for you but to be concerned with repentance and judgement. We pray for the prosecutors, judges and juries who must hear the stories of those whose lives have been taken; may they judge honestly and fairly.

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