Reprinted with permission from the Scroll down for another story from the local parish, “Working for a better and stronger Ferguson.” Click here for more on the Catholic Church’s response to the situation in Ferguson, Mo.

Archbishop Carlson provides a pastoral presence in Ferguson

By Dave Luecking | | twitter: @stlreviewscribe

At 8:26 p.m. Nov. 24, the word came down.

No indictment for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

News of the St. Louis County grand jury’s “no true bill” spread quickly throughout the world. Twitter was ablaze in the figurative sense, and Ferguson soon joined it in the literal sense. Vandals rioted, looted and burned multiple businesses.

Helicopters flew overhead, gunfire ultimately led to the closing of air space above Ferguson and of nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Archbishop Robert J. Carlson was in the thick of it for a prayer service at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Church in Ferguson.

As Archbishop Carlson spoke at the lectern, asking for peace and calm, violence broke out all around Blessed Teresa — about two miles to the southeast, near the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive; a mile to the east at the intersection of Chambers Road and West Florissant Avenue, to the southwest at the Ferguson Police Department on South Florissant Road; and just a half-mile to the west at the intersection of Airport Road and North Florissant Road.

As the leader of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Archbishop Carlson knew he needed to be there, despite the danger. Not for a press conference and photo ops. He wanted to provide pastoral care, what he does best, and meet with St. Louis Catholics who wanted to pray for peace, safety and healing.

People are hurting — over the shooting death itself and the subsequent violence.

The plan

In his office at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury, Archbishop Carlson received word early in the day that the grand jury had reached its decision, that it would be announced in the evening. Though the actual decision was unknown, it was time to act. He conferred with key staff throughout the day to determine where to be and when. The community needed him.

He decided to first visit police officers who would be on the front lines, to protect and to serve: in the afternoon at the city police command post with Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice, and in the evening at the Central Patrol Division on North Jefferson Avenue, where Missouri National Guardsmen monitored the street entrance to the parking lot.

Finally, he would go to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, which had scheduled a Rosary and prayer service to begin at 8 p.m. just when St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch was scheduled to announce the grand jury decision.

Parish visits usually are scheduled weeks or months in advance for the archbishop’s calendar. But on this day, Archbishop Carlson wanted to be mobile, to react on the spur of the moment with whatever needed to be done.

City police

At both police venues, Archbishop Carlson walked among the officers, many wearing their protective equipment and ready for action. He shook hands, greeted officers and thanked them for their service.

In turn, they thanked him for being there.

Other than police chaplains who have ministered to city and county officers and state troopers since the second week of August, clergy and ministers have been visible on the protest side, whether to show solidarity, to keep the peace or to stir the pot of racial disharmony — Brown was black; Wilson is white. In one memorable standoff outside the Ferguson police department, clergy berated officers, with some saying officers should be ashamed for killing people and should repent.


St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson prays with the St. Louis police Nov. 24, a few hours before the announcement that a St. Louis County grand jury determined there was not enough evidence to indict Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson prays with the St. Louis police Nov. 24, a few hours before the announcement that a St. Louis County grand jury determined there was not enough evidence to indict Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Archbishop Carlson addressed officers at both venues, thanking them for their sacrifices and their families’ sacrifices and offering prayers for their safety when the streets became mean.

“We pray, Lord, that you wrap them in your protection and that you stand with them in the long hours that they have to work, on behalf of all of us,” he said. “We ask that this be a peaceful night, a night when every police officer is kept safe. … We pray, Lord, with the gifts and talents you bless these people with, that they not only make our city safe but protect people and keep them from harm.”

He asked St. Michael the Archangel — the patron saint of policemen — to intercede on their behalf.

“Lord, we know you love these men and women,” Archbishop Carlson said. “We know you’re with them in everything, and they know they have our support at as well. May they never forget how proud we are and how awesome it is what they do.”

Archbishop Carlson would visit the Ferguson command center the next night, just as he did back in August.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

After finishing the North Jefferson Avenue visit around 7:20 p.m., Archbishop Carlson and two of his staff members, Al Rudolph and Katie Pesha, made the 10-minute drive to Blessed Teresa, about six-and-a-half miles away. Father Robert “Rosy” Rosebrough, the Blessed Teresa pastor, had opened the doors of the church for the prayer service and for people who just wanted to pray.

Father Rosy has been active since the early days of the crisis. Two days after Brown died Aug. 9, he prayed at the shooting site, and also prayed at and blessed the hulk of the QuikTrip, which had been looted and burned the previous night. He presided over a weekly Rosary prayer service at Blessed Teresa for 11 weeks, Aug. 11 through Oct. 27. He walked in a march that included Jesse Jackson, presided over a LifeTeen night of prayer and organized a peace procession and prayer service from Blessed Teresa to City Hall.

Opening the doors of the church was just the latest of his pastoral care to the Ferguson community.

Father Rosy and Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, of nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish greeted people in the vestibule, and Archbishop Carlson joined them after his arrival. Then, at 8:02 p.m., Archbishop Carlson and Father Rosy processed down the center aisle to the altar for the service.

Father Rosy read the day’s Gospel, then led a Rosary, splitting the decades with Deacon Al Love. In Clayton, McCulloch started speaking 17 minutes late, at 8:17, and finally announced the no-indictment decision nine minutes later, minutes before Archbishop Carlson spoke from the lectern.

Archbishop Carlson repeatedly called for peace, as he has done, as Michael Brown’s family has done, since August. He also prayed for them as “they continue to grieve for the loss of their son,” and for Wilson and his family.

“The grand jury has made its decision, and we must accept that, but at the same time, we must work to make sure justice is at the heart of all we do,” he said, adding that the grand jury decision “can never be an excuse for more violence. Instead, we must come together as a community for prayer, mutual understanding and forgiveness if we are going to attain peace. As Blessed Paul VI said, ‘If you want peace, work for justice.’”

He urged everyone in attendance “to pray for peace, and we will pray, and we will pray, until God blesses us with peace. May He hear our voice and answer with the power only He has. May He bring peace to our community.”

Archbishop Carlson then ended the service with the Lord’s Prayer and the Glory Be before he and Father Rosy processed to the back of church, where they greeted people as they left. Violence was beginning in the area, but there was no rush; pastoral care happens in its own time and at its own pace.

Finally, Archbishop Carlson left at about 8:50 p.m., drove to his residence and watched with sadness the TV coverage of the chaos in the community he had just left.

That night, before he drifted off to sleep, he prayed.


Working for a better and stronger Ferguson

By Dave Luecking | | twitter: @stlreviewscribe
A Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parishioner prays the rosary at the Ferguson, Mo., church Nov. 24 as violence began to erupt in the town following the St. Louis County grand jury's announcement. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

A Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parishioner prays the rosary at the Ferguson, Mo., church Nov. 24 as violence began to erupt in the town following the St. Louis County grand jury’s announcement. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

The destruction throughout Ferguson left Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parishioner and former mayor Brian Fletcher speechless.

“My heart is broken,” he wrote in an email. “Words can’t describe the near destruction of our beloved city of Ferguson.”

Hours after the announcement that a grand jury wouldn’t indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, vandals hijacked protests and violence exploded in Ferguson, overwhelming law enforcement and firefighters.

Businesses near the intersections of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive, West Florissant and Chambers Road, and North Florissant and Chambers roads were looted and burned. Windows were broken at businesses on South Florissant Road near the Ferguson police department.

Firefighters arrived to fight the fires but took gunfire and withdrew for their safety. In all, 21 businesses were destroyed by fire.

Father Robert “Rosy” Rosebrough walked through the area Nov. 25, the day after the violence, and quietly blessed businesses and employees, who are now out of work. Among the discussions in the aftermath of Brown’s death, lack of economic opportunity in poor communities has been at the forefront, yet the robbing, looting and arson eliminated the source of employment and economic opportunity for many.

“My heart was very saddened and disappointed with the violence, looting and destruction of property,” Father Rosy wrote in a reflection on the Blessed Teresa website. “Many people will have no income for months. The effects of hatred, violence and hopelessness have a tremendously rippling impact upon the lives of many people.”

Father Rosy drew strength from St. Catherine of Alexandria, a fourth century martyr whose feast day was Nov. 25.

“What struck me … was that no matter where St. Catherine was, free or in prison, she was going to be true to herself and her mission, like a piston of a motor that continually revolves, again, again and, again,” he stated. “As a rhythm ingrained in her very being, she would always offer the gift of hope and tell others of the abundant life the Jesus Christ is offering to all of humankind.”

He offers hope, something devoid of many among the protesters upset by the Brown shooting and the grand jury decision.

A news panelist “commented that many young African-American men are overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness and have no regard for their own life or for anyone’s property,” Father Rosy wrote. “When you are filled with hopelessness, there is no room in (your) heart to think about the consequences of (your) actions. It is in this world of brokenness that Jesus Christ came in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.”

Father Rosy has called Ferguson the “New Bethlehem,” ground zero where change can be made in society by “leaning in” as he says, and truly listening to the words others are saying.

“When we listen to the stories of others, when we hear their pains and frustrations and they hear ours, we discover that we are brothers and sisters,” he concluded.

There are good people in Ferguson, whether at Blessed Teresa, nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, or just people willing to help out. Pro Football Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams, the former Ram who remained in St. Louis after retirement and became a pastor, was among those helping to clean up businesses Nov. 25.

Like Father Rosy, Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, the pastoral associate at Our Lady of Guadalupe, walked around Ferguson in the aftermath of the violence and observed “lots of good people helping everyone.”

Though heartbroken now, Fletcher has hope that Ferguson will rebound from this, just as it did in recent years with massive destruction by tornadoes.

“I believe God only gives us what we can handle,” stated Fletcher, chairman of the “I Love Ferguson” committee. “From the ashes, we will rise a better and stronger Ferguson. God Bless Ferguson … Let’s show the world the power of peace and unity.”