Bishops echo nationwide call for peace

September 27, 2016

HOUSTON — For Catholics across the country, Friday, Sept. 9, was a Day of Prayer for Peace. 

The Archdiocese honored the national day with a Mass at 12:10 p.m. and a prayer service at 7 p.m. Both services were held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The Office for Vicar for Catholics of African Descent coordinated the Mass and prayer service in conjunction with the Archdiocese. At the prayer service, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza said the rise of violence in the nation is a sickness.

“Unfortunately, it seems to have become almost commonplace among us,” he said. “That’s why we come together to pray for God to heal this sickness, which is beginning to become more and more violent...”

Archbishop Fiorenza said he hopes the community responds in positive ways to overcome the core problems that have caused the surge in killings around the nation.

“The issues are the lingering effects of racism,” he said. “It is these lingering effects of racism which, throughout the years, have spun on the inequality in education, the inequality in housing, the inequality in health care, the inequality of the ability to register to vote. All of these basic inequalities continue to linger and continue to give rise to some of the violence and terrible actions which we have seen in so many places in our nation.”

Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz presided the Prayer for Peace Mass.

“Each one of us has been created in the image and likeness of our Lord. And we have to treat each other with that same care and compassion that our Father has for us,” Bishop Sheltz said during his homily. “Today we recognize that we are all created equal. We all deserve to be respected and loved.”

Bishop Sheltz told the faithful to be people of peace and of harmony, and to accept others who are different as one of us. 

“Remember my friends; we have all been created in the likeness of our Lord. He didn’t make us better than anyone else,” he said. “We must treat each other as gifts of God. I pray that this day is not only a day of prayer, but that this prayer moves us to action to help change this country to one of peace, love and care.”

On July 21, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) invited the bishops of all Catholic dioceses across the country to participate in the Day of Prayer for Peace. That same day, the Archbishop appointed a special task force, which includes USCCB vice president Daniel Cardinal DiNardo as a consultant, to support bishops in promoting peace and healing during this time of great strain on civil society.

Archbishop Kurtz made these announcements in light of incidents of violence and racial tension in communities across the United States, and as a direct response to racially related shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas. The Archbishop said that the Catholic Church needs to look at ways it can walk with and help these suffering communities. 

“By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities,” he said in the July 8 announcement.

The day chosen for nationwide prayer is the feast of St. Peter Claver, the Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary who ministered to slaves for 40 years in Colombia and became the patron saint of slaves and ministry to African-Americans. He is said to have personally baptized about 300,000 slaves.

On July 5 Alton Sterling was shot outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after police responded to a call about a man threatening another man with a gun. On July 6, Philando Castile was shot by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. That led to an ambush against police officers in downtown Dallas on July 7 where Micah Xavier Johnson shot and killed five officers after a peaceful protest regarding the two shootings. On Sunday, July 17, Gavin Long of Kansas City ambushed and killed three law officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge. 

“We have been blessed here within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston not to have experienced the horror and tragedy of other major cities in our nation,” said Deacon Leonard Lockett, the Archdiocesan Vicar for Catholics of African Descent. “However, they are real and serious structural issues of racism that affect people here in our community.” 

Deacon Lockett said the issue of race and the reality of racism can no longer be a topic discussed only in an academic setting or among like parties. 

“We can no longer wait,” he said. “We have to begin an open and honest dialogue about race and racism in our nation, warts and all.”
Deacon Lockett said the faithful must also begin to live, teach and preach the Gospel of Social Justice.

“It is no longer just enough to donate to a clothing or food drive; we have to be a people with a cause,” he said. “It is imperative that our clergy truly understand the significance of their role to advance the dialogue through challenging and inspiring preaching and active advocacy.”
Archbishop Kurtz said, “By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities.”

Under “Pray for Peace in Our Communities” on the website, the conference offers resources to help parishes and communities seeking to organize events for Sept. 9. The USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development also has a diversity and racial justice page at that can provide resources on prayer, learning about others, reaching out to others, and taking action. †

― CNS and the USCCB contributed to this report.