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Peace Prayers In St. Louis

Anthony Lamar Smith’s mother, Annie, center, walks with family and protesters during a peaceful rally Sept. 17 after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black. Stockley is white. (Photo: Catholic News Services/Lawrence Bryant, Reuters)

By Joseph Kenny and Jennifer Brinker

ST. LOUIS (CNS) – Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis called for peace following a not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley.

Stockley, who is white, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death in 2011 of Anthony Lamar Smith, an African-American. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued the ruling after Stockley waived his right to a jury trial.

“If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness,” Archbishop Carlson stated. “While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division. We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us.”

Protesters began gathering in downtown St. Louis soon after the ruling was made public on the morning of Sept. 15. Media reports had warned of threatened disruptions if Stockley was found not guilty.

Protests turned violent, and more than 120 people were arrested Sept. 17 as protesters attacked police and broke windows.

“Violence does not lead to peace and justice – they are opposing forces and cannot coexist,” the archbishop said. “I implore each of you to choose peace! Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence. We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self.”

Archbishop Carlson was to join other faith leaders from St. Louis for an afternoon interfaith prayer service for peace and solidarity Sept. 19 in downtown St. Louis.

Two Catholic churches in St. Louis – St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Nicholas – opened for prayer and conversation after the verdict was announced. An invitation was extended to a regular peace and justice vigil held every Sunday at 7 p.m. on the stairs of St. Francis Xavier (College) Church.

At St. Nicholas Church, about half a dozen people came for the regular 12:15 p.m. Mass. Father Art Cavitt, who is the pastor and also director of the St. Charles Lwanga Center in St. Louis, kept the church, located just north of downtown, open throughout the day Sept. 15 for anyone in need of a place to pray or seek pastoral care.

The tensions that arose from Ferguson and what’s happening now, Father Cavitt said, “say something about us, and our country and humanity and our needs. There’s this festering that has been happening – in our communities and in ourselves. It’s more reflective of that, than a specific case that pushes a button.”

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