Detroit parishioners gather on city's streets praying to end violence

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Meloy, The Michigan Catholic

By Dan Meloy

DETROIT (CNS) — In a city with
the second-highest murder rate and highest violent crime rate in the country,
peace can often feel like a hopeless cause in Detroit.

But on a warm August night, with
thunderstorms looming, at the corner of Gratiot and McClellan avenues on city’s east side, peace and prayer were on
the lips of Detroiters, friends and strangers alike.

Taking Back the Night is prayer
group started by the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries. Its objective
is simple: asking God for peace on the streets of the city they love.

“I just wanted to join with the
group in praying for peace; fighting crime, racism and all its effects,” said
Genevieve Kocourek, a member of St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish on the east side. “A group
prayer is great because it brings people together, not just Catholics, but
anyone who can join us in praying in public.”

The group offered intercessions
for loved ones and the community, mixed with Hail Marys and Our Fathers, while people
held signs reading “Pray for Detroit” or “Honk for Peace.”

Many motorists on Gratiot were
honking, an encouraging sign for Leon Dixon Jr., director of Black Catholic Ministries.

“When I hear a honk, I know what
we’re doing is right. When they honk, it’s a small way to contribute to the
prayer,” Dixon said. “Events like these are successful, because you’re actually
being a bold witness to Christ.”

Taking Back the Night was at the
corner of Gratiot and McClellan, in the shadows of Nativity of Our Lord Church, Aug. 15-19. The
group relocated to the Cathedral
of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Woodward Avenue Aug. 22-26 and was at St. Thomas Aquinas-St. Christopher
Parish on the city’s west side afterward.

Dixon said it is important for
the group to meet at night, because that’s the time of day when most of crime
happens. It also forces people to think of the ministry as “outside of the four
walls” of a regularly daily job.

“We’re here at 9 p.m., because
we need to be here 24/7, we need to set the night in the appropriate tenor,”
Dixon said. “We can’t just be ‘9-to-5’ ministers, inside four walls; we need to
go to street corners, go to where the people are. When troubles arise in our
community, it’s easy to minster in walls. But what Christ is asking us to do is
go out into the streets.”

Going into the streets is what
appeals to members of Taking Back to Night, publicly showing people someone is
praying for them, even if they’ve never thought so before.

“We’re here to continue to lift
up those in our prayers, standing in the gap for those that can’t be here to
pray,” said Lawrence Jenkins, a member of St. Charles Lwanga Parish. “It’s what we’re called
to do, to intercede on the behalf of Christ. Come out to support and witness

Most importantly, Kocourek said,
“We’re asking God to bless the neighborhood, work beyond our understanding and
power, that’s the greatest thing. I think public witness is not only powerful,
but peaceful, because it causes people to pause what they’re doing, to reflect
on God and what he can do for the community.”

Jenkins and other members said
every honk of a car horn was an acknowledgement that people appreciate what the
group is doing for Detroit and a reminder that God is present in the city.

“They don’t have to get it and
pray to know there are people in the community that are praying for them,”
Jenkins said. “Public acts of prayer inspire people going through difficult times
that Christ is still with them, holding on to today and fighting for tomorrow.”

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Meloy is a staff reporter at The Michigan
Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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