"Choose peace! Reject any false and empty hope that violence will solve problems," St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson implored in a statement released following the decision of a St. Louis County Grand Jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson on any charges stemming from the shooting death of Ferguson, Mo., teenager Michael Brown last August. "Violence only creates more violence," Archbishop Carlson said. "Let’s work for a better, stronger, more holy community—one founded upon respect for each other, respect for life, and our shared responsibility for the common good.
"With the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson," the archbishop said, "I know that many feel hurt, betrayed, forgotten and powerless. I know anger, disappointment, and resentment, and fear abound in our community at this moment. But we must accept this decision as the proper functioning of our justice system. In our collective desire for justice, we can be blinded by the poisonous desire for vengeance, which can be contagious and bring a desire for violence. We all want justice, so we should respect the integrity of our system of justice as something that aims for the common good."
He said the grand jury decision was not an excuse for more violence, arguing instead, "Now is the time to channel emotions in a way that helps build up our community, to become more active in your church or religious community, to volunteer at a food pantry or community service organization, to take part in political activity, to mentor a young person. Whatever you do, do not lash out with violence at your brothers and sisters. Do not seek to destroy or divide. Instead, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding and forgiveness if we are to obtain peace. Rather than fuel the fires of hatred and division, we should strive for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us. Violence does not lead to peace; they are opposing forces and cannot coexist.
Archbishop Carlson cited the example and words of Sain John Paul II in attempting to persuade his community to remain calm. He said Saint John Paul II "didn’t merely condemn violence; he also aptly described the depravity of violent behavior by saying:
'Violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings. Violence is a crime against humanity, for it destroys the very fabric of society.'
"Drawing inspiration from St. John Paul II, one of the 20th century’s preeminent figures of hope and peace, I issue the following challenges to members of our community:
- Commit to learning how to truly love each other. If we do this, then we will learn to love our neighbor. Show children the path of forgiveness and we will see walls of division crumble. Your homes are the foundation of our community. If your homes are full of forgiveness, they will be temples of peace. Our communities, cities, state, and nation will enjoy a lasting, fulfilling peace only if it begins in the home.I again echo the words of St. John Paul II: “make your streets and neighborhoods centers of peace and reconciliation. It would be a crime against youth and their future to let even one child grow up with nothing but the experience of violence and hate.”
- Youth, remember that you are not only creating the world of tomorrow, but you are a vital part of the world today. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians: “For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” So, ask yourself: Are you sowing seeds of division, resentment, and discontent? These will only lead to anger and hatred. Choose instead to sow seeds of reconciliation, dignity, honor, and respect. Begin creating the world you want to see. Do not listen to those who instigate aggression. Reject violence. Embrace peace.
- Please pray. Pray unceasingly for peace. Pray for our leaders and pray for your neighbors. If you feel called to act, do so only after prayer. Blessed Mother Teresa knew the proper formula. She spent a holy hour in prayer every day; it was only after prayer that she would serve. So, too, must it be for us.
- Finally, I issue this challenge to all religious, political, social and law enforcement leaders: Join me in asking the Lord to make us instruments of peace. We, as leaders, need wisdom, compassion, and courage in order to combat the brokenness and division that confronts us. We must be leaders who help heal, not inflict hurt. We must be leaders who can come together to address issues like family breakdown, racial profiling, quality education, abuses of authority, lack of gainful employment, fear of one another, mistrust of authority, and many other needs. We must ask the tough questions and find lasting solutions.