BALTIMORE — Earlier this year, as communities faced tensions, protests and violence, following a spate of shooting and killings of black men by police, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Louisville, Kentucky, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked dioceses across the country to observe a day of prayer for peace.
He also wanted the bishops to look for ways they could help the suffering communities, as well as police affected by the incidents.
To that end, he appointed a special task force to explore ways of promoting peace and healing around the country and named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta to head it.
On Nov. 14, Gregory urged bishops gathered in Baltimore at the USCCB’s fall general assembly to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism, given “post-election uncertainty” and that some of the tensions have only gotten worse following the presidential election.
He urged prayer, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogue, as well as parish-based and diocesan conversations and training, and providing opportunities for encounter.
In a news conference that followed his afternoon presentation and ended the first day of the bishops’ assembly, Gregory said communities that were disrupted by violence and riots after the police shootings, prompting a calling for healing from the church, are now seeing recent and highly public reactions to tensions brought about by the election results.
“It’s the hope of the task force, of people of goodwill, that the demonstrations, don’t turn violent,” he said.
American society has the ability to express opinion on social matters through various forms of expression, including protests, but “what we pray for is that those expressions of frustrations don’t provide another vehicle for violence.”
Tensions had been high enough in July, when Kurtz had said the Catholic Church needed to “walk with and help these suffering communities” that had been affected by the shootings and the riots protesting them that followed.
“I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence,” Kurtz said at the time.
He said he wanted the work of the task force to help embrace the suffering of the communities, to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in local communities.
The recommendations, said Gregory, were examined before the recent elections and all the tensions and protests that have followed. The recommendations were related to race and violence issues related to the summer shootings and riots.
But Gregory expressed hope that the church could help foster dialogue and bring healing by working with communities for a lasting peace.