Be healers in a hurting world, Catholic bishops say after shootings

A prayer vigil in Dallas for the injured and killed policemen in a July 8 attack in Dallas Credit Spencer Platt Getty Images CNA A prayer vigil in Dallas for the injured and killed policemen in a July 8 attack in Dallas. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Amid tensions following two high profile police shootings of African-Americans and the subsequent killing of police in Dallas, Catholic bishops have called on Christians to be a force for healing and compassion in response to hatred and inhumanity.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas said the shooting attack on the police is "staggering." Writing in a July 8 blog post, he prayed for consolation and healing for the victims and their families.

"We have been swept up in the escalating cycle of violence that has now touched us intimately as it has others throughout our country and the world. All lives matter: black, white, Muslim, Christian, Hindu. We are all children of God and all human life is precious."

"Let us implore God our Heavenly Father to touch the minds and hearts of all people to work together for peace and understanding," he said.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States bishops' conference, said that "When compassion does not drive our response to the suffering of either, we have failed one another."

He condemned violence against both the police and those they suspect of crime or stop in traffic.

"The police are not a faceless enemy. They are sons and daughters offering their lives to protect their brothers and sisters," the archbishop said July 8. "Jesus reminds us, 'no one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.' So too, the suspects in crimes or routine traffic stops are not just a faceless threat."

The archbishop's comments came at the end of a week marred by violence and racial tension.

On July 7, five Dallas police officers were killed in what authorities called a "sniper ambush" at the end of a peaceful protest against police shootings of African Americans earlier in the week.

Two days earlier, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot after an encounter with police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Sterling was selling CDs outside a convenience store when a homeless man approached him and asked for money persistently. Sterling showed the man his gun and asked him to leave him alone, according to CNN. The homeless man then called 911 and said Sterling had been brandishing a gun.

Two bystander videos of the shooting appear to show two responding officers tackling him and attempting to restrain him on the ground. Sterling was shot in the chest and the back.

Bishop Robert Muench of Baton Rouge responded to the shooting with an invitation to be "ambassadors of hope and mercy" offering support after the example of the Good Samaritan.

"This week in our community, as in our nation, and as in our world, we find ourselves facing the many emotions that accompany acts of violence," the bishop said. "We experience sadness, anger, frustration, and fear. To all these, our Lord invites us to renew our trust in his promise of fidelity, to increase our prayer, and to renew our commitment to peace and mercy toward one another."

"Truly, we are all called to be ministers of healing to a hurting world," he said. "May fear not lead us into despair. May anger not move us to inflict pain upon others. Rather, moved by the grace of Christ's suffering for us, may we in turn impart that grace to one another."

One day after Sterling's death, an African American man in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, was shot four times by a police officer and later died.

 Philando Castile, age 32, had originally been pulled over for an alleged broken taillight.

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His fiancée, Diamond Reynolds, livestreamed the aftermath on Facebook as her four-year-old daughter sat in the car's back seat. The video shows Castille laying in the seat of the car in a state of shock, groaning, with his shirt bloodied. In the video, Reynolds said Castile told the officer he had a firearm and had a concealed carry permit. She said that he was reaching for his wallet when he was shot.

The video, which reached over a million people on social media, shows Reynolds begin to realize her fiancé may be dying.

Both the officer involved in the shooting and the other officer at the scene have been placed on administrative leave as the incident is investigated.

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis responded by offering a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul for the preservation of peace and justice

"As people of faith, we turn to the Lord in challenging times, seeking not only his consolation and healing but also his wisdom and guidance," Archbishop Hebda said July 7. "In the midst of anger, fear and frustration, we need to come together as God's family to pray that God's grace might unite all people of good will and bring light into the darkness of this difficult time."

He said the Mass would ask God to console Castile's family, but also to "heal the divisions in our community," to guide public officials towards the common good, and to "satisfy the longings of those who thirst for justice and peace."

The two police shootings reignited racial tensions that had already been smoldering in some parts of the country. Protests were held in numerous cities, many linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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It was after one of these protests that the Dallas ambush took place. Authorities have identified one suspect, who was killed by a police bomb squad robot after negotiations failed. Investigations are underway to determine whether other suspects may be on the loose.

In his statement, Archbishop Kurtz stressed that both police brutality and the killing of police officers must end.

"The assassination of Dallas police officers last night was an act of unjustifiable evil. To all people of good will, let us beg for the strength to resist the hatred that blinds us to our common humanity," he said.

The archbishop called for national reflection on the need to place "ever greater value and the life and dignity of all persons."

He called for honest discussion on race relations, restorative justice, economic opportunity, and "the question of pervasive gun violence."

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