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Church must be a ‘force of peace’ after Freddie Gray death, says archbishop

A protestor faces police in Baltimore (PA)

As the city cleaned up after a night of riots, looting and fires following the funeral of Freddie Gray, Archbishop William Lori said the Church’s place is to pray, be a voice for peace, and participate in a wider community dialogue to solve the systemic issues that led to the unrest.

Gray, 25, died on April 19, one week after being arrested on a weapons charge and sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in West Baltimore while in police custody. After his funeral on Monday, peaceful protests turned into unrest later in the day, leading to damage of buildings and cars, and looting and fires seen non-stop on US TV news networks.

The next morning, as Archbishop Lori, Auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden and other archdiocesan leaders toured the West Baltimore neighborhoods affected, adults and children with brooms and trash bags were as numerous as the rioters the night before.

Archbishop Lori made stops at St Peter, St Gregory the Great and the senior citizens centre next door, and at St Edward, before heading to North Avenue to survey the damage.

He said during the unrest he called as many West Baltimore pastors as he could, and spoke to many of them.

“We will continue to do a lot of work, especially through Bishop Madden and the city pastors, especially on the west side,” the archbishop said.

“First of all, let’s pray … We need to strengthen our communities that they might be a force of peace. We need to participate vigorously in a city-wide dialogue on the systemic issues that have really bubbled up to the surface here.”

Earlier in the week Archbishop Lori called for prayer and a peaceful community response. “Freddie’s death is especially tragic because of the circumstances that led to it,” the archbishop said in a statement.

“The pain of his loved ones is all the more acute because of what his death represents for them, but also for so many others in our community who may not have known Freddie. For Freddie’s death symbolises the rawest of open wounds and the only salve that will heal them is that of the truth; truth about what happened to Freddie, truth about the sin of racism that is still present in our community, and truth about our collective responsibility to deal with those issues that undermine the human dignity of every citizen.”

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori visits a riot-hit section of West Baltimore (CNS)
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori visits a riot-hit section of West Baltimore (CNS)

Stephen Scott, who lives just around the corner from St Gregory the Great, greeted Archbishop Lori when he visited the Harvey and Jeanette Weinberg Sandtown Winchester Senior Centre on Tuesday. “It’s sad, so sad when it comes down to this and it hurts everybody,” Scott said of the violence.

Shirley Washington, who works at the centre, said she hopes those who participated in the violence will realise what they have done. “When it all settles down, you’ll think about what you did wrong then,” she said.

At St Bernardine Parish, a previously scheduled three-night revival opened as the violence flared.

“I think we’re all heartbroken over what’s happening, but we’re going to keep our faith in God and keep praying, keep looking for truth and answers, and look for peace as well,” said Msgr Richard Bozzelli, pastor.

He said the parish planned to go ahead with the youth night portion of the revival on Tuesday in partnership with St Frances Academy.

At the opening, Deacon Curtis Turner, principal of St Frances Academy, preached about the hapless disciples, terrified in a boat in a storm, as they witnessed Jesus walking on water, Msgr Bozzelli said.

“Little did he know when he was preparing that what storm we would be dealing with,” the pastor said.

Willa and Brendan Walsh of the Baltimore Catholic Worker Viva House, located several blocks from the violence, said they received many phone calls and emails inquiring about their safety. They responded in a statement on what they saw as the roots of the destruction.

“The unrest and anger are the results of decades of unemployment, decades of miserable uninhabitable housing, decades of under-funded chaotic schools, decades of the drug trade, and, it goes without saying, centuries of racism,” the Walshes wrote.

“The most violent country in the world has produced citizens, unfortunately another generation of young people, who will believe that violence is the solution to all problems.”

Public schools across the city cancelled classes on Tuesday. The Archdiocese of Baltimore did the same, closing all schools except for the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, located in Homeland, north of the violence.