By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Catholics and others here responded with prayer in the wake of the killing of police officers in Dallas.
Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, of the SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker House, said her husband, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy quickly called for a prayer vigil at noon outside City Hall. Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy said it was to pray for peace and for the courage and creativity to work for justice, especially for “our black brothers and sisters.”
News reports said Dallas Police Chief David Brown and Mayor Mike Rawlings gathered with others there at noon (1 p.m. Eastern time) to pray, after Thursday night’s attacks that killed five police officers and wounded seven others during a Black Lives Matter rally.
“It’s been a terrible week,” Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy said of two black men recently killed by police and people’s response of anger and grief. In Baton Rouge, La., Alton Sterling, 37, was shot and killed July 5 as two white police officers wrestled him to the ground, an action posted online by a cellphone video of the shooting. Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer during a July 8 traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Falcon Heights.
“Of course, fear will follow events like this. To counter that fear we need to come together and to pray for guidance and for the courage to confront the problems and to confront them non-violently,” Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy said.
People say they will not give up their guns, she said, but added, “We can certainly limit our access to them.” After she and her husband and supporters arrived at Worcester’s City Hall for their vigil, they learned that local clergy had planned to gather there at 1 p.m., to coincide with the vigil in Dallas.
Some people waited for those who were expected to come later. They talked with one another, reporters and passersby and held signs such as “All Lives Are Sacred,” “Police Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Pray for Peace.”
After Rev. Carla Dietz, of Greendale People’s Church, arrived, she asked bystanders to join them in prayer for peace. Some ignored her. One said, “Sure. ” And others joined the group. More than a dozen people stood in a semi-circle, some holding hands, some praying aloud. Then the group dispersed.
Father Richard F. Trainor, the new pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, was there at noon, having been informed about the vigil by Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy. Father Trainor brought along Father Michael J. Roy, pastor of St. Roch parish in Oxford, who happened to be visiting him.
“We’re witnessing to peace and non-violence,” Father Trainor told The Catholic Free Press. “We believe in relationships. We believe in the dignity of every human being.”
Sister Rena Mae Gagnon, a Little Franciscan of Mary who chairs the social justice and peace committee at Our Lady of Providence Parish, said Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy had also called her.
She said the Catholic Workers have “been the voice of conscience in Worcester.” She said she came to join with “the many who realize that violence does not solve anything; it just perpetuates more violence.”
As she told The Catholic Free Press this, a passerby called to vigilers, “Guns save lives. Look it up.”
Sister Rena Mae resumed her conversation, expressing a wish that leaders realize what the problems are.
“Guns are big business and it seems like we support them,” she said. “If we realize guns are a danger in the hands of those who should not have them,” it seems like we should do something.
“I would be here if I wasn’t on the clock,” Deacon James W. Graves, who serves at St. Anna Parish in Leominster, said after talking with Father Roy. He had happened upon the group when on a break from work. He said what is needed is more prayer and fewer guns.
“I wanted to be here in solidarity with these folks,” said Rev. Aaron Payson, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester.
“I’ve been mulling this over” since the shooting deaths of individuals and the “massacre” in Dallas he said.
“I want as swift justice for the families of the men who were killed by police as I believe there will be for those who killed the police yesterday.
“I believe that we have to continue to work to stop the desecration of brown and black bodies of men and women in this country by the police and that violence is an illegitimate response to this reality.
“I hope that the community of Worcester can continue to come together to recognize and respond to ways that entrenched racism affects all of us, especially people of color,” Rev. Payson said.
“I was pleased how many people from the street … wanted to talk,” Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy said. She said it’s important for young people to see adults come into the public square and articulate a desire for peace, and justice pursued non-violently.