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St Louis archbishop urges prayers for peace in Ferguson

Protesters hold their hands in the air during a demonstration against the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson (CNS)

Residents of the US town of Ferguson “are struggling to find peace in the chaos” that has followed the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer, Archbishop Robert J Carlson of St Louis has said.

“We are all aware of the turmoil and tragedy our St Louis community is experiencing,” he said in an August 18 letter to Catholics of the archdiocese.

After visiting Ferguson, in Missouri, which is about 11 miles from downtown St Louis, and offering prayers at a memorial there to 18-year-old Michael Brown, Archbishop Carlson said he has been observing and reflecting “through much prayer” on what has taken place on a daily basis, from peaceful protests to violence and looting, since the August 9 shooting.

Brown’s shooting has brought renewed attention to deep racial tensions in Ferguson and long-standing divisions between minorities and law enforcement. Brown was black, and the police officer who shot him is white.

Tensions in Missouri were heightened further on Tuesday when police shot another black man. In a St Louis neighbourhood, close to Ferguson, a 23-year-old man, named locally as Kajieme Powell, was said to be carrying a knife and behaving erratically.

St Louis police have said the man did drop a knife when he was requested to and was within four feet of the officers when he was killed.

President Barack Obama has sent US Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson to assess the current situation.

“I find strength in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,'” Archbishop Carlson said. “In all circumstances, but especially in these difficult times, we are all called to be instruments of peace through our words and actions.”

He quoted Pope Francis as saying: “All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace.”

Archbishop Carlson invited Catholics to attend an early evening Mass for peace and justice he planned to celebrate on August 20 at the Cathedral Basilica of St Louis.

He said that during the Mass, a special collection would be taken for funds to assist food pantries and parishes in the Ferguson area that offer assistance to those who have been affected by the looting and destruction of property.

He encouraged all parishes in the archdiocese to offer Masses “for peace in our community” and have other activities such as a Holy Hour or a parish rosary as part of the effort.

As Catholic schools start the new year, he has asked them to begin a daily rosary for peace and to offer special intentions during all school Masses.

He also noted in his letter that Catholic Family Services, an agency of Catholic Charities of the archdiocese, has made counselors available to any Catholic school that requests assistance. The agency has also publicized tips for parents and schools when dealing with crisis situations, he said.

“Pope Francis has encouraged us again and again to ask Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, to intercede for us in difficult circumstances,” Archbishop Carlson said, referring to a special Marian devotion of the Pope.

He urged all in the St Louis Archdiocese to join him in praying to Mary and her son, Jesus, “for peace and justice in our community.”