Those of us who have formed friendships here at Saint John would tell you that I am not a hyper-emotional person. I try to showcase my enthusiasm and joy for our faith and our Parish Family while continuing to face challenges that our community has both on this campus and in the area with analytical and deliberative action. In fact, those are two of my top 5 Gallup Strengths that our Parish Staff Retreat illustrated to me. However, after the shooting in Parkland, FL, just an hour and 45 minutes away, where high schoolers we cut down in their prime before they even had a chance to see what their lives could be, I have been overcome with emotion. My wife and I have four children, from elementary to high school aged. They are the light of our lives. I could never imagine dropping my son off at his high school, telling him that I love him, and never see him again. I could not fathom having to hold my wife as she breaks down sobbing and broken at the loss of one of our children. Tears are welling up in my eyes as I write this just conceiving of this possibility. Fear, anger, and resentment are all attempting to overtake in this storm of emotion. However, the light from the survivors of Parkland, those brave youth who are not letting terror win in their hearts, have opened my eyes and soul for what we should be doing. The Catholic faith is more than thoughts and prayers. It is a faith of action. We are called To Know, To Love, and To Serve God, in His Church and Our Community. There it is, in our Mission Statement. We need to take our faith out of the church and into the streets.
I started to evaluate (in my analytical focus, of course) what the Catholic Church’s stance is on this type of terror, the horror of weapons of war getting into the hands of disturbed individuals. It is actually incredibly clear what the church teaches. I found Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is the opening statement:
Our families are torn by violence. Our communities are destroyed by violence. Our faith is tested by violence. We have an obligation to respond. Violence — in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world — is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is paralyzing and polarizing our communities. The celebration of violence in much of our media, music and even video games is poisoning our children. Beyond the violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts. Hostility, hatred, despair and indifference are at the heart of a growing culture of violence. Verbal violence in our families, communications and talk shows contribute to this culture of violence. Pornography assaults the dignity of women and contributes to violence against them. Our social fabric is being torn apart by a culture of violence that leaves children dead on our streets and families afraid in our homes. Our society seems to be growing numb to human loss and suffering. A nation born in a commitment to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is haunted by death, imprisoned by fear and caught up in the elusive pursuit of protection rather than happiness.
Can you believe that this document was written in 1994? That’s right, the Catholic Church has been stating the obvious about violence in our American society that sounds exactly like the same society 24 years later. We have made absolutely no progress. Reading on:
…Our nation needs to focus its energies and resources on helping communities combat crime and helping families overcome destructive moral and economic pressures, discrimination and dependency. Our policies must help people escape poverty and discrimination and leave behind lives of addiction, self-destruction and crime. We need both to hold people accountable and offer them concrete help and hope for a better future. We also need to encourage a commitment to civility and respect in public life and communications — in the news media, politics and even ecclesial dialogue. The search for the common good is not advanced by partisan gamesmanship, challenging other people’s motives, or personal attacks. The focus on the sensational, the search for conflict, and the assumption of bad will are not the basis for dialogue, and hurt the search for common ground. The culture of violence also has world-wide dimensions. As the only world super power, as the world’s greatest consumer, and as the largest arms exporter, the United States has a special obligation to seek peace and promote justice through creative and responsible world leadership…
The Catholic community is in a position to respond to violence and the threat of violence in our society with new commitment and creativity. More of the same is not sufficient. Business as usual is not enough. Our faith and facilities can be beacons of hope and safety for those seeking refuge from violent streets and abusive homes. People can become peacemakers in their homes and communities. Parishes can organize mentoring programs for teen parents. The Church can be the first point of referral for spousal abuse. We can incorporate ways to handle family conflict in our religious education and sacramental preparation programs. We can work for public policies that confront violence, build community and promote responsibility. Finally, we can join with other churches in developing a community wide strategy for making our neighborhoods more safe, welcoming and peaceful…
We must learn again the lesson of Pope Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice.” We oppose lawlessness of every kind. Society cannot tolerate an ethic which uses violence to make a point, settle grievances or get what we want. But the path to a more peaceful future is found in a rediscovery of personal responsibility, respect for human life and human dignity, and a recommitment to social justice. The best antidote to violence is hope. People with a stake in society do not destroy communities. Both individuals and institutions should be held accountable for how they attack or enhance the common good. It is not only the “down and out” who must be held accountable, but also the “rich and famous.” Our society needs both more personal responsibility and broader social responsibility to overcome the plague of violence in our land and the lack of peace in our hearts. Finally, we must realize that peace is most fundamentally a gift from God. It is futile to suggest that we can end all violence and bring about full peace merely by our own efforts. This is why we urge the Catholic community to join all our anti-violence efforts with constant and heartfelt prayer to Almighty God through Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We close these reflections with a word of support and appreciation for those on the front lines — parents, pastors, parish leaders, youth workers, catechists and teachers, prison chaplains, men and women religious. At a time when heroes seem scarce, these people are real heroes and heroines, committing their lives to the service of others, standing against a tide of violence with values of peace and a commitment to justice.
So, what are we to do here at Saint John? We already focus our efforts outwardly to directly assist those in need breaking the cycle of poverty and violence in Immokalee and around our church through Saint Vincent De Paul, Catholic Charities, the Ladies of Charity, the Knights of Columbus and the tireless work of hundreds of our Parish Family members. It also our responsibility to create a safe and loving world for children, grandchildren, and all the members of our human family. All life is precious, and we need to protect it.
Weapons of war have no place in our society. We have received numerous calls from individuals asking if they should bring their firearm to campus for “safety”. Father John has made it clear that guns and other weapons are not authorized on our campus for any reason except for on-duty law enforcement officers. This does not impede on anyone’s right to own a weapon, but as a private facility, Father John has the authority to allow or deny weapons on our campus. Not only would a gun brought on campus by a “good” person not deter someone with evil intent, it would create a crossfire situation where our Parish Family would be in further jeopardy as well as to make it even more difficult for law enforcement to determine who is the good guy and who is the bad one when they do respond. Saint John has spent a significant amount of time and money on developing our Safe Environment, which includes the certification of our Ushers and Greeters for Crowd Management. They are just a part of the layers of security we have instituted and continue to deploy for our campus.
As my wife will tell you, the safety of our Parish Family has been my top priority since I began this responsibility as your General Manager. The fear and anger that had gripped me has turned instead into resolve and dedication to make positive progress for our society, for our Parish, and for my children. Please join me in supporting programs that will directly stop the violence and create a safer world.