We must search our hearts to remove any taint of hatred
When you were on vacation last month, you wrote a pastoral letter on peace. How difficult has it been to understand the scourge of violence in our world?
It’s very challenging. There’s an incredible amount of violence, hatred and terrorism that exists in our world, in our country and within our own city. Everyone knows what happened 80 miles away in Baton Rouge. Alton Sterling was killed in a confrontation with police, and then a short time later, three Baton Rouge police officers were targeted and killed simply because they were police officers. That came on the heels of five police officers in Dallas who were targeted and killed. We cannot afford to become numb to these kinds of tragic events. It seems as though every other day there is another act of hatred that takes the life of another person or several persons. We cannot become numb to the scores of people who were run down by a terrorist driving a truck in Nice, France; we cannot become numb to the victims who are killed unjustly because of racism; we cannot become numb to the people who have given their lives to protect us as law enforcement officers and unfortunately become targets. It becomes easy to see all these things and throw up our hands and ask what we possibly can do to stop the violence. But we are people of hope and reconciliation. We need to pray that God will give people the ability to use words instead of guns and negotiation instead of killing.
What was your reaction when you heard about the elderly priest in France who was killed while celebrating Mass?
I was heartbroken. Here’s a man in his 80s. He has given his life to priestly ministry, and he’s simply doing what he was called to do – celebrating the Eucharist. Members of ISIS come into the church and cut his throat, and the priest bleeds to death at the altar. It’s so sad for two reasons. First, part of priestly ministry is being a man who brings about reconciliation and peace – sharing God’s peace with others. So, a peacemaker is killed. Second, a church is always supposed to be a place of refuge and sanctuary where people who are in trouble can go protect themselves from violence. Here, within this sacred place, a priest’s life is taken. What an incredible contradiction.
What can we do?
I mentioned in my pastoral letter on peace that we can always pray and work for peace according to the vision of Jesus. We can pray for those whose lives have been taken unjustly by humans and not by God. We can pray that they have eternal life. We can pray for their families that they may know God’s comfort. We need to pray for police officers killed in the line of duty, who by simply doing their jobs become a target for violence. We can always look at hatred and terrorism “out there” in the world, but these events also give me an opportunity to look into my own heart and reflect on the unjustified anger or feelings of hatred I may bear toward others. We sing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We have to ask God to draw from our hearts anything that is tainted with hatred, revenge or racism. As we form our families to be more peaceful, then our world will become more peaceful.
What’s been going on with the interfaith effort to combat violence in the New Orleans area?
We are making very good progress. Darlene Cusanza of Crimestoppers asked leaders of many different denominations and religions – Catholic, Christian, Muslim and Jewish – to work together in letting their congregations understand better how Crimestoppers works to fight violence and solve crimes. We’ve had three meetings already with a good representation of interfaith ministers, both women and men. One of our main goals is to let people know that Crimestoppers is totally confidential. A person who has information about a crime should not feel hesitant to call the Crimestoppers hotline (504-822-1111). Most often people do not report the information they have on a crime or a suspect because they are afraid of retaliation. The Crimestoppers’ process is anonymous. Crimestoppers never identifies the person who reported the crime, not even to the police. They simply take the tip anonymously and give it to police to investigate. There should be no fear of retaliation. Crimestoppers says it well: “Silence is violence.” If I know who may have committed a murder and I don’t say anything, then I participate in some way in the evil that has taken place because I am not doing what I can to bring about justice. We hope to be able to spread the word about Crimestoppers in all of our Catholic parishes as well as in all churches and places of worship in our community. We pray that God will bless our collective efforts. Let there be peace on earth, please Lord. Show us your way.