Praying — and planning — for peace

by Bill Scholl

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “We are just kids and we should be able to sit on our front porch without having to worry about being shot.”

Suddenly, the mixed-race room of the parish hall at Blessed Sacrament in Kansas City, Kansas, got very quiet as 15-year-old Raquel Barnett shared her reflection at the Peace in Our Community prayer breakfast convened by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas on Sept. 10.

Barnett, an African-American, was part of a panel of speakers that had come together to “share, listen and lift up in prayer the racial hurts and hostilities that hinder the harmony and peace that God wants for our community,” according to the archdiocesan offices for black Catholics and social justice, sponsors of the event.

Barnett lamented the recent murder of a teenage friend who had been killed in a drive-by shooting, despite having no affiliation with gang activity. The speaker who followed, Brad Grabbs — a white volunteer who runs an afterschool tutoring program named The Learning Club in the predominantly poor northeast part of Kansas City, Kansas — put Barnett’s pain into perspective.

“I’m a good guy, but my family will tell you [that] when I’m stressed, I am not my best self,” he said. “For these kids and their parents living in a low- income community, it is very stressful.”

The prayer breakfast was in response to the U.S. bishops’ call for a national Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities, which itself was catalyzed, in part, by the civil unrest and tragedies of the last few months. The local chapter of the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver (whose feast day was the day before) hosted the racial healing event.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, also a member of the speakers panel, gave the closing reflection by sharing a story from his time ministering in St. Louis to African-American communities.

“We often used the acronym TAMBO,” he said, “as a reminder of Our Lord’s prayer from John 17: That All May Be One.”

This unity, continued the archbishop, was God’s vision for the community, and the church was called to model unity through its worship and outreach.

In addition to reflection talks, the 96 attendees engaged in small group discussions and group prayer in which each was invited to write down pains and prayers on red sticky notes and attach them to a 10-foot cross in the front of the hall. The cross was covered in every place a hand could reach.

One prayer in particular captured the tenor of the day: “Dear God, I pray that you may use me as an instrument of your peace so that the scourges of racism and violence may one day be no more.”

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