Wilmington, Del., Jul 5, 2009 (CNA) - Underneath a tableau depicting Mary at the foot of the cross bearing her dying son Jesus, Jackie Latson tearfully urged about 110 men gathered at St. Paul’s Church in Wilmington, Delaware last Saturday to take back the streets and stop the violence that left her son dead.
"My son was killed five years ago," she said through her tears. "Why is it that about 50 people have been killed [in Wilmington] since? It’s not getting better; it’s getting worse. I’m begging you to stand up."
Her plea came at the start of a rally called the "1,000 Man Call to Consciousness and Action Program." Organizers said they hope to transform dangerous city streets by approaching, with a smile and a handshake.
"We hope to befriend the people on the corners, and we want to recruit them to be peacekeepers themselves," said Father Mike Tyson, associate pastor at St. Paul’s and an organizer of the rally.
He would like to see Catholics more involved in such activities, citing the two great commandments to love God and to love neighbor. "If we just do the work in the temple (honoring God) and not in the street, then we’re only doing half the commandment."
The area around St. Paul’s has had its share of violence. Two people were shot several blocks from the church at Fourth and Jackson streets, the day before the rally. Both were hospitalized. And two men shot to death at a Newport storage unit June 9 were from St. Paul’s, Father Tyson noted.
While the meeting was held at St. Paul’s, the group supersedes racial and religious lines; whites, blacks and Hispanics of different faiths participated, including 15 to 20 from St. Paul’s.
Some of the organizers have experienced the violence firsthand. A brother of Norman Mercado, 59, a St. Paul’s parishioner, was killed about 25 years ago, he said. About a year afterward, Mercado said he and six others were shot after an altercation with a motorcycle gang, but all survived.
"I’ve seen so many young guys getting shot, getting killed," said Mercado. "It’s time to do something."
Dennis Muhammad of Houston, who has helped to organize groups whose members call themselves "peacekeepers" in five other cities, explained that the key is to share "a small word called love," he said. "We will not stop until we can guarantee the safety of our ladies, our children and our elderly."
Members began their push this week in four sections of the city. Each week they plan to return to the same areas to greet the young people they find. "These young men need some guidance and direction," said Deacon Donald Benn, 48, of New Calvary Baptist Church, another organizer and father of three. "I feel a need to do something."
The group’s action comes too late to help Latson’s son, Hakim Crawford, who was shot to death at Seventh and Jackson streets on April 16, 2004. While weary of seeing so
many others injured or slain in street violence, she continues to press a message of nonviolence. She even forgave Dwaynne Staats, the man who killed her son, "because that’s what God called me to do. I don’t believe in violence. I don’t believe in the death penalty."
Staats is serving a life sentence.
Latson’s talk came the day before Hakim would have turned 37.
"I want to hold him again but I can’t," said Latson, who was pregnant with Hakim when she moved to Wilmington from North Carolina. "This is a pain that cannot be healed."
Printed with permission from The Dialog, newspaper for the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.
CNA STAFF, Jul 5, 2009 (CNA) - Monday marks the feast day of St. Maria Goretti, a young virgin and martyr whose life is an example of purity and mercy for all Christians.
Maria Goretti is best known for her commitment to purity and the courageous defense of her faith at the young age of eleven that made her willing to undergo death rather than participate in a sin against God. She is also remarkable for the forgiveness she willingly granted her attacker as she lay on her deathbed.
Maria was born in Corinaldo, Italy on October 16, 1890. Her father, a farmer, died of malaria when she was young, and her mother had to work to support their six children.
Maria took care of the younger children while her mother worked, and she prayed the Rosary every night for the repose of her father’s soul. She grew in grace and maturity, and her cheerful obedience and piety were noticed by those around her.
On July 5, 1902, a neighboring farm hand, Alessandro Serenelli, tried to rape Maria. On several prior occasions, Alessandro had harassed Maria with impure advances, all of which she has vehemently rejected. This time, he locked her in a room and tried to force himself upon her. She fought against him, shouting, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" and warning him that this was the path towards hell. When Maria declared that she would rather die than submit to this sin, Alessandro angrily grabbed her and stabbed her 14 times with a knife.
Maria was found bleeding to death and rushed to the hospital. As she lay dying, she forgave Alessandro for the crime he had committed against her, saying, "Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him...and I want him to be with me in Paradise."
Although the doctors tried to save her, she died two agonizing days later, only eleven years old.
Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant until one night, eight years into his prison term, when Maria appeared to him, dressed in white, gathering lilies in a garden. She smiled, turned towards Alessandro, and offered him the flowers. Each lily he took transformed into a white flame. Then Maria disappeared.
From that moment, Alessandro converted and found peace. He repented of his crime and changed his life. He was released from prison three years early and begged forgiveness from Maria’s mother, which she duly granted.
Alessandro moved to a Capuchin monastery, working in the garden as a tertiary for the remainder of his life. He was one of the witnesses who testified to Maria's holiness during her cause of beatification, citing the crime and the vision in prison.
Many miracles were attributed to Maria Goretti after her death. In 1950, she was canonized by Pope Pius XII, becoming the youngest Roman Catholic saint officially recognized by name. Her feast day is celebrated by the Church on July 6, and she is the patron saint of purity, rape victims, young women, and youth in general.
On her feast day in 2003, Pope John Paul II spoke about St. Maria Goretti at his Sunday Angelus, noting that her life provides an exemplary witness of what it means to be "pure of heart."
"What does this fragile but christianly mature girl say to today's young people, through her life and above all through her heroic death?" asked the Pope.
"Marietta, as she was lovingly called, reminds the youth of the third millennium that true happiness demands courage and a spirit of sacrifice, refusing every compromise with evil and having the disposition to pay personally, even with death, faithful to God and his commandments."
"How timely this message is," the Holy Father continued. "Today, pleasure, selfishness and directly immoral actions are often exalted in the name of the false ideals of liberty and happiness. It is essential to reaffirm clearly that purity of heart and of body go together, because chastity ‘is the custodian’ of authentic love."
Vatican City, Jul 5, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his reflections before today's Angelus prayer to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. Recalling that the first Sunday of July was in the past dedicated to the devotion of the Most Precious Blood of Christ, he spoke of the Blood of Christ as a “source of hope in a world torn apart by violence and hatred.”
The Holy Father began by mentioning the importance of blood in the Old Testament. "The sprinkling with the blood of sacrificed animals,” the Pope explained, “represented and established the covenant between God and his people.”
When Jesus gave his life for mankind, the Pope taught, he shed his blood as the sacrificial lamb of the Old Covenant: "From his scourging, to the piercing of his side after his death of the cross, Christ poured out all of his blood, as the true Lamb slain for universal redemption.”
The blood that is still being spilled in the world today, he said, "cries out to God" like that of Abel, killed by Cain. "And sadly, today as yesterday, this cry is incessant, because human blood continues to flow as a result of violence, injustice and hatred.”
“To the cry for blood, which is raised from many parts of the earth, God answers with the blood of his Son, who gave his life for us,” the Holy Father expounded. “Christ did not respond to evil with evil but with good, with his infinite love.”
“The blood of Christ is the pledge of God's faithful love for humanity,” he continued. “Gazing at the wounds of the crucified Christ, every man, even in extreme moral poverty, can say: God has not forsaken me, he loves me, he gave his life for me; and so rediscover hope.”
“May the Virgin Mary,” Pope Benedict concluded, “who at the foot of the cross, together with the apostle John, gathered up Christ’s testament of blood, help us to rediscover the inestimable riches of this grace, and to feel enduring gratitude.”
At the end of the Angelus prayer, Benedict XVI recalled the victims of a rail disaster in Viareggio, Italy, where a silo containing liquid gas exploded, resulting in 22 deaths. He also condemned the morning attack in front of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Cotabato in the Philippines. The Pope assured that he is praying for the victims and stressed that the use of violence will never bring about a solution to problems.
Vatican City, Jul 5, 2009 (CNA) - This morning in the Filipino town of Cotabato City, a bomb was detonated near the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, killing at least five people and wounding some 34 others. After praying the Angelus at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his "deep rejection" of the attack and prayed for the victims.
The Holy Father explained that the attack is being attributed to Muslim extremists by the local police. The Pope told the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, "the explosion of a bomb in front of the cathedral (Cotabato) during the celebration of Sunday Mass, has caused several deaths and numerous injuries, including some women and children."
"While praying for the victims of this ignoble gesture, I raise my voice once again to condemn the use of violence, which is never a decent way to solve problems," he added.
Hundreds of churchgoers remained inside the cathedral after the powerful explosion, praying even more fervently for “peace.” The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said that Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo was delivering his homily when the incident occurred, causing panic among churchgoers.
Rolando Emberga, a churchgoer, said some rushed to go out of the church, but Archbishop Quevedo tried to calm things down, the CBCP reports.
Emberga said the blast was extremely loud and that people inside the church were screaming.
Four people, including two soldiers, died instantly in the attack and a fifth victim died at the hospital, according to local police reports.