Archbishop calls for peace after verdict, asks community to come together

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lawrence Bryant, Reuters

By Joseph Kenny and Jennifer Brinker

ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Archbishop
Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis called for peace following a not guilty
verdict in the trial of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley.

Stockley, who is white, was
charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death in 2011 of Anthony Lamar
Smith, an African-American. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued the
ruling after Stockley waived his right to a jury trial.

“If we want peace and
justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual
understanding, and forgiveness,” Archbishop Carlson stated. “While
acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and
division. We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those
around us.”

Protesters began gathering in downtown
St. Louis soon after the ruling was made public on the morning of Sept. 15.
Media reports had warned of threatened disruptions if Stockley was found not

Protests turned violent, and
more than 120 people were arrested Sept. 17 as protesters attacked police and
broke windows, according to CNN, which also reported that a peaceful protest took
place Sept. 18, not too far from the site of the previous night’s violence.

“Violence does not lead to
peace and justice — they are opposing forces and cannot coexist,” the
archbishop said in his statement. “I implore each of you to choose peace!
Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence
only creates more violence. We must work together for a better, stronger, safer
community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our
neighbor as another self.”

Archbishop Carlson was to join
other faith leaders from St. Louis for an afternoon interfaith prayer service
for peace and solidarity Sept. 19 in downtown St. Louis.

Two Catholic churches in St.
Louis — St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Nicholas — opened for prayer and
conversation after the verdict was announced. An invitation was extended to a
regular peace and justice vigil held every Sunday at 7 p.m. on the stairs of St.
Francis Xavier (College) Church.

At St. Nicholas Church, about
half a dozen people came for the regular 12:15 p.m. Mass. Father Art
Cavitt, who is the pastor and also director of the St. Charles Lwanga Center in St. Louis, said he kept the
church, located just north of downtown, open throughout the day Sept. 15 for
anyone in need of a place to pray or seek pastoral care.

The tensions that arose from
Ferguson and what’s happening now, Father Cavitt said, “say something
about us, and our country and humanity and our needs. There’s this festering
that has been happening — in our communities and in ourselves. It’s more
reflective of that, than a specific case that pushes a button.”

Reflecting on the Sept. 15 feast of
Our Lady of Sorrows, Father Cavitt said that there are people who, like the
Blessed Mother, have been heartbroken time and time again, but yet keep saying
“yes” through the lens of faith.

“It is that witness of
faith, that witness of the Gospel that will carry us through this day in
St. Louis and whatever happens the next day as well,” he told the St.
Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Assumption Parish in O’Fallon
offered prayers for peace and healing at a free evening concert performance by Christian
singer-songwriter PJ Anderson Sept. 15.

It was “a chance to join
together as God’s beloved coming to pray for our metro area and all cities
(and) to resist situations that can pull us apart,” said Amanda Suchara,
media coordinator for the parish.

Four Catholic high schools in
St. Louis closed in anticipation of the verdict.

By mid-afternoon Sept. 15,
several hundred people were assembled at a downtown intersection near City
Hall. Students and staff from St. Louis University were
present at different points during the day.

Father Christopher Collins, the
university’s assistant to the president for mission and identity, started the
day at St. Louis University’s School of Law, just a couple of blocks from the
protest site. He and several other clergy members went to the street to pray
for about half an hour.

As a Jesuit, “you want to
follow in a pastoral way — to be where people are hurting and to be
present,” he said. “We called on God’s love for all of us.”

A group of several dozen St.
Louis University students connected on GroupMe and went downtown after their
morning classes.

“I came because it’s the
right thing to do. I want to stand with my community and protest what’s going
on here. It’s not right,” said junior Michael Winters, who is studying

“The sense of complacency
that people have, in that these sorts of things happen and some people come
down to protest, but then we just sort of let it slide. I think I’m guilty of
this as well, at times,” said junior Charlie Revord, who is studying
sociology and economics.

“Today is just a reminder
that we have to keep up the pressure to try and make change,” he added.
“It’s only going to come through coming together, having dialogue and
really standing in solidarity with the people who are suffering.”

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and Brinker are staff writers at the St. Louis
Review and Catholic St.
Louis, publications of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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