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Witnessing to Faith and Love in Ferguson

After the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed, our parish of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, in Ferguson, MO, prayed for peace by holding a vigil night of prayer, twelve weekly gatherings to recite a Rosary for peace, and a prayerful procession to honor Brown and pray for our communities. As we discerned our response to the situation, we asked ourselves, “Are we the victim, or are we the chosen?” We decided that our response must be the latter.  We began a “Lean In” process to help all of us imitate Jesus’ example of compassionate listening to the stories and experiences of people of races and cultures different than our own. Each Sunday, we recite together a special “Lean In” prayer when we gather for the Eucharistic celebration.  Our parish has hosted numerous events to reflect on the sin of racism, which remains prevalent not only in our community, but around the United States. At the commissioning of paintings for our parish of two African American Catholics whose legacy inspires us, Fr. Augustus Tolton and Sr. Thea Bowman, we discussed and prayed together about how we can response to hatred, anger, and racism with love. We continue to discuss these holy examples and how they inspire us in our current context as we make a series of pilgrimages and prepare for a Week of Mercy, during which we will reflect on peace, justice, racism, and our response in mercy. One of our most creative responses, however, was when, inspired by Bishop Braxton’s The Racial Divide in the United States, our pastor engaged children in each grade level of our parish school to study holy men and women from a variety of cultural backgrounds, such as St. Martin de Porres, Sr. Kateri Tekawitha,  St. Juan Diego, Fr. Augustus Tolton and Sr. Thea Bowman. Each class then performed a dramatization of different saints’ lives as part of an all-school Mass, in which the parents also participated. This engaged families in conversation about the holy men and women, their lives, and their application to today’s reality.  These witnesses of faith and love are now featured in a Hall of Fame Wall. The wall depicts visually the pride and dignity with which we hope our children will engage in dialogue and peace.