Illinois bishops urge tolling of bells to mark 150th anniversary of Civil War's end

Catholic parishes, schools and other institutions in Illinois are called on to ring their bells for four minutes at 2:15 p.m. April 9 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army in Appomattox County, Virginia.

The Catholic bishops of Illinois asked for the bells to be rung "with a sense of respect for those who have labored these many years to act on President Lincoln's vision and with a profound sense of hope for the future," according to a statement released March 27, following their spring meeting.

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Lee's surrender April 9, 1865, "came to symbolize the beginning of reconciliation throughout the United States for a nation torn apart by civil war," the statement said.

In the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean.

"The terms of Gen. Lee's surrender were intentionally lenient as President Abraham Lincoln wanted to demonstrate to people in the South that they had a place in America. Confederate troops were paroled, allowed to keep their side arms, their horses and their possessions and urged to return to their homes," it said.

The statement went on to recall the closing lines of Lincoln's second inaugural address: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Robert Gilligan, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, noted that the observance of the end of the Civil War comes in the wake of Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton's Jan. 1 letter about racism and race relations in the United States.

In that letter, "The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015," Bishop Braxton, who is African-American, reflected on several incidents of black men and boys being shot or hurt by police or vigilantes and shared his own experiences of racism at the hands of law enforcement officers, and offered suggestions for what Catholics can do on race matters.

"The Catholic bishops have in their minds issues relating to racial relations in the United States and in their communities," Gilligan said. "There's still hope looking at the words of President Lincoln. We've made great strides in the area of racial relations, but we need to continue keeping that in our prayers."

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