ST. PAUL, Minnesota — As the Twin Cities and the nation continue to absorb events that led to the April 20 guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, Minnesota’s Catholic leaders are pointing a way forward: Christ’s example of forgiveness, compassion and thirst for justice.
“We wish to hold up before all peoples the image of the Crucified Christ,” the bishops of Minnesota said in a statement shortly before the jury announced its verdict in the Chauvin trial.
“Jesus Christ gave his life to bring eternal justice, reconciliation and salvation to all peoples. He is before us as a witness, because he is fully God and fully man, to the healing power of forgiveness, compassion, reconciliation and peace,” the bishops said.
There is work to do, the bishops also said, noting that the trial reopened questions about the impact of racism on society and culture.
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis released a separate statement after the verdict, calling it “a sobering moment for our community.”
Jesus calls people, through their “shared brotherhood,” to “a deeper respect for all human life,” the archbishop said. “We ask him to bring healing into our communities, comfort to the family of George Floyd and all who mourn, and satisfaction to those who thirst for justice.”
The jurors’ verdict in Chauvin’s case did not lead to more protests and riots. It was met with relief and hope among many who gathered to hear it in front of the Government Center, where the courtroom is located. A joyful mood prevailed at the George Floyd Memorial, the site where Floyd was killed.
Carole Burton, a 53-year-old business leadership, equity and workplace trainer and a member of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, said she followed the trial and recognized its significance. But it was a moment, she told The Catholic Spirit, archdiocesan newspaper of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“It’s an important moment,” said Burton, who is Black. “We as Catholics have a lot of work to do. In our workplaces and where we gather in large places, that is where change will take place. It’s up to us to commit and to opt in and to dig in.”
Everlyn Wentzlaff, 69, a parishioner at St. Peter Claver in St. Paul who helped organize a Peaceful Presence prayer group in the church during the trial, said she sees the church’s role as “being there for the community and to listen, and to speak up and to speak out.” She also wants to see people of color “at the table” as the church in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis addresses racism and racial injustice.
“We are here, and we want to be seen, and we want to be heard,” said Wentzlaff, who is Black and who converted to Catholicism 25 years ago. “Catholics can be supportive. You don’t have to be Black to support Black people.”
St. Catherine University in St. Paul closed April 21 for a day of reflection following the verdict. In an Instagram post the university encouraged students and staff to reflect on the situation. “We pray for peace, for strength and for love of the dear neighbor,” the post said.
Since Floyd’s death, Hebda has been encouraging the faithful of the archdiocese to join him in prayers for peace and justice.
On the weekend before the trial began, the archbishop prayed with other faith leaders in front of the Government Center. As closing arguments were scheduled to begin, the archbishop held a special Mass “For the Preservation of Peace and Justice” at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, and he urged all priests of the archdiocese to celebrate that special Mass on the same day.
At the April 19 Mass, the archbishop in his homily noted that the issues of racism, peace and justice were larger than one person can solve, but that did not mean people should do nothing.
“We can’t single-handedly force healing to those who feel the wounds of racism in our land,” the archbishop said. “We can’t bring George Floyd back to life, or Daunte Wright back to life. Does that mean we do nothing? Absolutely not.” His reference to Wright was about the 20-year-old Black man fatally shot by a police officer April 14 in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center during a traffic stop.
The day after Wright’s death, Father Paul Shovelain, pastor of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, got on his church roof and prayed a rosary he livestreamed on Facebook as he gazed at the homes and businesses, churches and schools of Brooklyn Center, only miles away, one hour after a citywide 7 p.m. curfew went into effect.
At St. Thomas More in St. Paul, members of an anti-racism task force organized two hours of prayer every weekday afternoon during the Chauvin trial. The church was open from 3-5 p.m. to offer a “peaceful presence,” for people to quietly reflect and pray for peace. A similar prayer opportunity was held at St. Peter Claver in St. Paul on Wednesday evenings.
On April 17, Father Paul Jarvis, pastor of St. Bridget in north Minneapolis, and several parishioners walked the neighborhood in an ecumenical group called Come Together, praying for all victims of violence.
Dean Rademacher, parish director at St. Joseph in New Hope, said parishioners recently formed a Peace and Justice Commission. Its first project is a book club meeting via Zoom to discuss a book titled A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, a 2016 compilation of 16 essays by people of color from the Minnesota Historical Society.
Discussions are impactful, and they mark a step in the direction of greater understanding, Rademacher said.
“We always tie it into Catholic social teaching,” he added. “There is a wisdom that’s been around a long time.”
Ruff is news editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.