One more name was added to the list of children killed by gun violence in St. Louis this year, read aloud at the Interfaith Vigil to Save Children's Lives on Oct. 25: Alexzandria Bell.
Alexzandria, 15, was killed in a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis Oct. 24, along with Jean Kuczka, a health and physical education teacher. The shooter was killed by police.
The interfaith vigil, held at Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in north St. Louis, gathered faith leaders and members of congregations from around St. Louis to mourn and pray for children killed by gun violence and to launch the Interfaith Gun Safety Initiative. The event had been planned well in advance, but several faith leaders noted that it seemed to be God’s timing that it was scheduled so soon after the previous day’s tragedy.
“It is a command from God to take action,” Msgr. Dennis Stehly, vicar general for the archdiocese, said during the vigil. “He is counting on us to be instruments of His love.”
“The time for talk is over. The time for action is now,” he said.
Sister Janice Munier, SSND, parish life coordinator at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Hyde Park, shared the story of Xavier Usanga, a 7-year-old boy who was fatally shot while playing with his sisters outside their home across the street from Most Holy Trinity.
“Even though they have passed from our sight, we know that they have not passed from Your care,” she prayed. “…Within each of us, stir up the courage to do whatever necessary to safeguard the precious lives of all children. Help us from becoming numb to the violence that is such a part of our everyday life.”
The Interfaith Gun Safety Initiative aims to bring more faith congregations into the work of ensuring gun safety and ending gun violence. Congregations will begin distributing gun locks and will have access to programs and materials from Everytown for Gun Safety and the Stop, Lock and Drop It initiative developed by the St. Louis Violence Prevention Coalition.
Catholic parishes in the north city and south city deaneries will be the first to start distributing gun locks, with plans to expand around the archdiocese from there, said Marie Kenyon, director of the archdiocesan Office of Peace & Justice.
Cathy Gilbert, a member of the social justice ministry at Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Manchester and volunteer with Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, said she sees gun violence prevention as an essential part of the Catholic teaching to uphold the dignity of each human life.
“I’m in West County, and some (from that area) tend to think that this isn’t our problem,” she said. “It’s important to emphasize that we are all part of this community. We are all affected by gun violence, and the trauma, particularly the trauma to our children.”
As we “stand at the foot of the cross every day,” Christ asks us to work to put an end to all violence, said Father Mitch Doyen, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in south St. Louis.
“This is the most heinous example of something we as human beings are capable of ending,” he said. “We might not be able to implement policies that stop war today, but we can do this. I think everybody needs to take it seriously and be involved in ending gun violence.”