By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
The sounds of lively Gospel hymns poured from St. Martin de Porres Church and filled the neighborhood streets as people gathered for “A Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in our Communities” on Sept. 9.
Despite the night’s heat and humidity, more than 600 people — including Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Chief of Police Steve Conrad — gathered at the West End parish to pray for peace and improved race relations. St. John Paul II Church in Hikes Point sent a bus loaded with three dozen parishioners.
The service, led by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, was part of a nationwide effort to pray for peace in the midst of violence. Dioceses across the country were asked by Archbishop Kurtz, who serves as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to join in prayer with a special focus on race relations.
St. Martin de Porres, located at 32nd Street and West Broadway, sits at the edge of the Russell and Parkland neighborhoods.
The archbishop was met with thunderous applause when he told the congregation, “We are here tonight because you want violence no more.”
“We need to protect and create an atmosphere for everyone who lives here in Louisville and the greater area,” he said. “Our children deserve the opportunity we had. And opportunity is the word here tonight.”
Without opportunity and without people providing opportunities, the archbishop said, the seeds of violence begin.
Archbishop Kurtz, who also asked people to fast on Sept. 9, said, when “we fast it takes our minds off ourselves.”
“When we have everything we want, we pray for more for ourselves,” he said, but when we are willing to sacrifice “our prayer becomes purified.”
“We want to purify our prayer so that the seeds of action will be sown in our heart,” he said. “So that when we leave here, we will leave differently.”
The archbishop said that when we pray and fast together, it’s hard to have an enemy.
“I look around and we are here from every section of the city of Louisville and even beyond. And we are of one voice, one mind and one heart,” he said. “What we want tonight is to have the seed of action planted in our hearts. We don’t want to leave here and go back to things as they were.”
The goal is to leave with a different outcome and “everyone of us” is responsible, he said.
The archbishop called on his listeners to build a community one person at a time.
“It will occur in your classrooms, at your family table, at your workplace and on the pavements on the streets of Louisville when you look into the eyes of someone who is a stranger and you say ‘Good Morning,’ ” he said.
Deacon James R. Turner, sacramental moderator of St. Martin de Porres, said individuals must take the archbishop’s words to heart and bring that message back to their families and communities.
“In our own personal families, we must discuss, particularly with children, ways of eliminating violence,” he said. “We must discuss how to deal with conflict so they know there are more ways than harming another person.”
Those discussions, Deacon Turner said, will cascade down from the family to our church communities, where programs are available to teach nonviolence to children.
One of those program is “My Brother’s Keeper,” led by Deacon Kenny Bell, who serves at St. Martin de Porres. My Brother’s Keeper is offered by the Catholic Enrichment Center and seeks to prevent violence through programs for men and boys, said Deacon Turner.
“There is wonderful interaction with law enforcement officers,” he said. “Attorneys have shared ways on how to interact with law enforcement.”
A special collection — totaling $2,200 — was taken during the service to benefit My Brother’s Keeper.
When it comes to improving the situation, Deacon Turner said there is not a single solution.
“There is no magic wand. There is no single institution, or school or government agency. It takes all of us collectively working together to do the best we can,” he said.
Deacon Mike Burchett, who serves at Christ the King and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches in West Louisville, said the Sept. 9 prayer service has the potential to break down barriers.
“Folks down here need to see solidarity and that everyone here is coming together to pray, not just for peace, but to pray for enlightenment,” he said. “I hope they go back to their communities and tell everyone about all the people that came out tonight to pray.”
Emily Mosby, a parishioner of St. Martin de Porres, said the Sept. 9 prayer vigil was important because “prayer is the answer for all things.”
“The vigil is a barrier of violence in the community,” Mosby said. “The archbishop has taken a stand and asked us to come out. We are all one body.”