This week we have been doing a lot of thinking about violence and its prevention. The theme was first brought to mind by Fr. Michael Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina's Catholic Church in Chicago, who is so fed up with adults refusing to stand up to and take responsibility for combatting the violence that is decimating the youth in his neighborhood that he has produced a T-shirt. The T-shirt says "I am a 'SNITCH'" and includes a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "In order for Evil to prevail, good men must do and say nothing." The back of the T-shirt implores us to "Break the Silence" and reminds us that "Silence Kills". For those who are not familiar with the streets and jails of this country, a "snitch" is someone who reports wrongdoers to the police. Snitches can become targets themselves which is why many people prefer to live in fear rather than speak out against evil.
The issue of standing up to violence was on my mind yesterday during the immigration rally as I observed a young Hispanic man arguing violently with his girlfriend. The young man frequently grabbed his partner forcefully and tried to pull her. She would pull away. It was somewhat alarming, although the young lady was clearly able to hold her own and with the abundant Park Police presence it was unlikely that much would occur. Finally an African American abuelita and an equally elderly white gentleman had enough of the scene and approached the couple. Though the young man obviously protested that he wasn't doing anything and told them to mind their own business, it was just enough to let him know that his behavior was not acceptable and it made the couple aware of where they were. They walked off and sat down under a tree to presumably carry on their disagreement in a more civilized manner. A concrete example of the value of speaking out against violence.
And so we come to the article I want to share with you on the same theme from Fr. Alex Diaz (El Tiempo Latino, 4/30/2010). Fr. Alex is a Catholic priest who grew up in El Salvador during that country's civil war and so is no stranger to violence. He is now pastoring the Hispanic community of St. Anthony's in Falls Church, Virginia, a parish that is right across the street from the Culmore housing projects, long plagued by gang violence. His words are simple but heartfelt:
We must seriously and responsibly seek out the roots of violence, which is only the fruit of the irresponsibility of many who have not boldly assumed their educational role, either as parents or as the government in charge. The truth is that today we must seek alternatives to achieve stability and reduce the violence that affects us all so much.
Violence has invaded us terribly; every day there are murders everywhere, and authorities are now virtually unable to cope with so many people who have lost respect for God and life. Faced with this reality of violence we ought to ponder: Are we really aware that violence is invading us?
What are we doing in our families, in our community, to uproot this evil phenomenon that is destroying our families and our youth? Sometimes I think that perhaps we only make the minimum effort. President John F. Kennedy once said: "Mankind must put an end to war [and violence], or war [and violence] will put an end to mankind." Wise words.
No fire has ever been put out with more fire, but always with something other than fire, so those who seek to sow peace in the world by cultivating violence are behaving like fools. In the history of humanity, violence has not done anything except destroy humanity itself and it will continue to destroy us as long as everyone does not do the right thing as Christians to make it disappear from our lives in the first place.
The big question is: Have we considered carefully that sometimes we become complicit in this phenomenon when we do not seek the solution to problems through dialogue and tolerance? I don't think we have very much.
Brothers and sisters, we must think about the violence that causes suffering to the whole world but also about the violence that is hurting our families, our communities and people. And we must act and pray for this reality to change.
Amen, Amen, and Amen.