Parish sows peace as violence marks life in neighborhood, nation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

ripped through the country the first part of July with police shootings in Minnesota
and Louisiana and the killing of five police officers in Dallas.

A day after the July 7 shootings
in Dallas, violence ripped through the neighborhood surrounding St. Philip Neri
Church on the near east side of Indianapolis when two men were found shot dead
at an intersection.

On July 10, about 30 people took
action to replace the violence around St. Philip with peace by prayerfully
walking through the neighborhood, stopping at a makeshift shrine at the
location where the two men had been found two days earlier.

It was part of a series of nine
prayer walks on Sunday afternoons sponsored by St. Philip Neri Parish that
began June 5 and concludes July 31. Participants gather at the church and walk
along different routes in the surrounding neighborhood for about a mile,
praying the rosary in both Spanish and English.

“Peace has to start in our own
hearts,” said Father Christopher Wadelton, St. Philip’s pastor. “It will then
grow out from our church to our neighborhood and the whole world.”

Father Wadelton got the idea for
the prayer walks from a similar effort made by St. Gabriel Parish in
Connersville two years ago after a spate of deaths by heroin overdoses sent
shock waves through the small southeastern Indiana town.

The priest explained that the
prayer walks sponsored by St. Philip began after similar drug problems and a growth
in violent crime in the neighborhood.

He said it was important that
the prayer for peace in the neighborhood actually occur on its streets, and not
simply in the parish church.

“God’s presence is here in the
streets,” Father Wadelton told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of
Indianapolis. “We’re not just isolated in our church building at Rural and
North streets. We’re out in the streets, bringing that visible presence of
Christ to the streets.”

Many of the people who joined
Father Wadelton on the prayer walk July 10 said something important was missing
from the discussions and news coverage of the shootings and increased racial
tensions across the country — God.

St. Philip parishioner Mary
Kendall said the walk was “a way to show that God should be more important than
anything else. There needs to be an awareness of God. Anger is not the answer.”

St. Philip parishioner Martha
Torres focused on prayer as a means of fostering peace.

“It’s important for peace, my
life, my neighbors — everybody,” she said. “Prayer is very important. You
might not see the effect now. But I put it in Jesus’ hands.”

Michael O’Connor sees the
violence in the neighborhood around his parish and the nation and feels like
changing it is out of his control. That’s why he turns to God.

“A lot of things in our
country are beyond our control. No matter how many training sessions they have
for police officers, how many interactive dialogues they have, there’s got to
be more change of heart,” O’Connor said. “Prayer can do that. That’s why I come

As the people in the
prayer walk moved on from the site where the two men had been found shot dead July
8, they turned onto another street and saw several Indianapolis Metropolitan
Police Department officers standing in the parking lots of a gas station and
neighborhood grocery store.

Matt Carroll, one of
those officers, was glad to see faith-filled people walking on the streets that
had been marked by violence.

“It’s inspiring,” said
Carroll. “It shows that people care. They’re willing to give to their community
and do their part to assist.”

Father Wadelton said that
showing care and hope to people in a neighborhood suffering from so much
violence and the despair of drugs was a goal in starting the prayer walks.

“Seeing a group of people
walking and faithfully praying makes people aware that Christ is in the streets
with them,” he said. “There are people who care about what’s going on. It’s a
strong act of peace and prayer.”

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Gallagher is a reporter at The
Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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