Face to face with violence - Catholic Courier

Face to face with violence

A slight breeze on Nov. 26 fluttered the flowers held by 17 people who
gathered outside a Rochester residence to bow their heads in prayer,
clasping one another’s hands to form a circle.

“Once again we come together in sorrow. We come together for Danille
and for Jeremy. We come together for the people that live here. We ask
you to take Danille and Jeremy into your hands,” said Deacon William
Coffey, leading those gathered in a prayer vigil for Danille Goodwin,
23, and Jeremy Daniels, 24, who were killed in their Arnett Boulevard
apartment early Nov. 25.

Deacon Coffey prayed for the victims’ souls, for their families,
friends and neighbors, and asked God to bless the area where the murder
took place, making it sacred once more. Four more people joined the
circle in front of the apartment as several others voiced their
prayers. The group then prayed the Our Father together.

For almost five years, Deacon Coffey has led a prayer vigil at the
site of each homicide in Monroe County. A core group of about 10 people
participates in most vigils, which usually take place the day after a
murder. Deacon Coffey said neighbors, friends and family members of the
victims sometimes attend, and that participation can reach 100 if the
community gets involved.

Deacon Coffey and the other vigil participants have been quite busy
this year. The Nov. 25 double-murder brought to 51 the total number of
Rochester homicides during 2003, up from 42 for all of 2002, according
to Rochester Police Department Spokesman Sgt. Carlos Garcia.

Deacon Coffey holds the vigils “to proclaim in the way that we can
proclaim that this life that is lost is an important life, a sacred
life. We’re all diminished, whether they live in Pittsford or in the
City of Rochester.”

The idea that violence only affects those living in urban areas is a
common misconception, as statistics from the New York State Department
of Criminal Justice Services indicate. In 2001, the latest year for
which data was available, more than 2,000 violent crimes were committed
in Monroe County, the most populous of the 12 counties comprised by the
Diocese of Rochester. During the same year, 31 violent crimes were
committed in Schuyler County, the least populous diocesan county. The
statistics show that some form of violent crime — defined as murder,
rape, robbery and aggravated assault — occurred in all 12 diocesan
counties.

The church teaches that all Catholics should be concerned about any
loss of life due to violent crime, abortion or capital punishment,
according to Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator.

“Catholic social and moral teaching gives us a guide,” she said.
“We’re required as Catholics and as people to show each other
respect.”

Armantrout said the consistent-life ethic espoused by the Catholic
Church requires respect for human life at all stages. If people
tolerate one form of disregard for life — such as abortion or the
death penalty — that disregard will carry over into violence and
murder.

“We live in a culture that sees violence as more of a norm than the
tragedy that it is,” Armantrout said.

Deacon John Brasley and his wife, Belinda, recently moved to
Rochester from Steuben County. Violence is more prevalent in their new
neighborhood, and murders have taken place within a few miles of their
house. Like many Catholics, they were frustrated by the violence
occurring around them but didn’t know what they could do about it. Then
they heard about Deacon Coffey’s prayer vigils and have been faithfully
participating ever since.

“We’re really crying out to God for an end to the violence,” Deacon
Brasley said. “I think it’s a really positive thing. The people in the
area sometimes participate, sometimes from a distance, and sometimes
join in the middle of a prayer. That can be very powerful, to see that
people do care.”

Deacon Brasley was recently named diocesan coordinator of jail
ministry and sees a connection between his new undertaking and the
violence that so frustrates him.

“I think that the jail populations are not always remembered by the
larger church,” he said. “Jesus told us that at the final judgment,
that’s one of the things we will be judged on is visiting those in jail
or in prison. Maybe our church can help to end some of the cycle of
being in jail and some of the violence.”

Attending homicide prayer vigils is only one way for people to do
something about the violence around them. The Rev. Karyn Carter,
executive director of Families and Friends of Murdered Children and
Victims of Violence, frequently attends the vigils. Her support group
is in the process of launching “Everybody Deserves Justice,” a campaign
to develop an ongoing, coordinated effort through which a caring
community can speak out against violence and will not be afraid to
stand up for justice.

Members of the community often have information about homicides but
don’t go to the police because they are afraid or think their
information isn’t substantial, Rev. Carter said. Her group is trying to
change that line of thinking and make people realize that each member
of the community can help prevent violence and murder.

“I think we think that the police can do this alone, and that’s sort
of misinformation,” she said. “People become immune and insensitive.
We’re trying to re-energize, remotivate the community. That’s
somebody’s child, that’s another human being.”

The group invites anyone interested in participating in the campaign
to gather with clergy and local law enforcement at 10 a.m. on Dec. 6 at
Full Gospel Tabernacle on Rochester’s Clifford Avenue before driving to
five recent homicide locations. At each location, participants will
distribute posters with the victim’s photograph and name and date of
the homicide. Anyone with information will be urged to come forward.

Deacon Coffey and Rev. Carter are also sponsoring a community-wide
candlelight service of remembrance at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at Genesee
Baptist Church in Rochester.

The diocese is also convening a group to study ways the local church
might be able to make a difference. According to Doug Mandelaro,
diocesan spokesman, the group has begun meeting with representatives of
several Rochester Catholic churches and plans to meet in the near
future to continue discussion and form a plan of action.

Father Bob Werth, pastor of the Roman Catholic Community of the 19th
Ward, noted that many of the children in his parish grow up surrounded
by violence. Adults, including the parish’s youth minister and teachers
at St. Monica’s School, combat the culture of violence by teaching
children how to treat each other and asking them to think about what
Jesus would do in every situation they encounter.

“We’re always, always working on it,” Father Werth said. “It always
comes up in conversation. We live it every day.”

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