Catholic leaders join forces to wage war on urban violence

Individual parishes throughout Baltimore City have taken steps to reduce urban violence, but collectively the pastors believe they can crusade against brutal crime.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien and urban vicar Bishop Denis J. Madden assembled six city pastors March 6 to share insight about Baltimore’s staggering murder rate and how crime has impacted their parishes, and to recommend how the archdiocese can help.

Though no immediate plan emerged from the assembly, the religious leaders committed themselves to form an ongoing coalition to battle violent crime.

“Collectively we’ll be able to do more than just one parish or one community,” said Father Kevin Milton, C.Ss.R., pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Baltimore. “Ultimately, we want to work together with the social agencies in the city. We should have a wedding between the city and church.”

Baltimore hit an eight-year high in 2007 with 282 murders, establishing it as one of the most violent cities in the United States.

The city faith communities mobilized individually to confront the violence in their neighborhoods.

St. Gregory the Great and St. Bernardine, as well as Empowerment Temple AME Church in Bolton Hill, held gun turn-ins, and several city churches held anti-violence rallies. St. Frances Academy, Baltimore, transformed its literacy youth camp last summer into a peace camp. Its goal was to teach children how to resolve differences in a nonviolent manner.

While applauding these efforts, Archbishop O’Brien and Bishop Madden want to develop a cohesive plan for the Catholic Church to confront urban violence.

“The first thing that is encouraging is that our archbishop cared enough to get us together on this issue,” said Father Paul Zaborowski, O.F.M. Cap., pastor of St. Ambrose in Park Heights. “Not only is that a positive first step, but his sincerity in wanting to turn around the violence in our city is very clear.”

The religious men considered peace rallies, no-violence zones, continuing gun turn-in programs, educational forums to address racism and many other ideas, said Monsignor Damien Nalepa, pastor of St. Gregory the Great.

“We haven’t settled on anything specific,” Monsignor Nalepa said. “It’s an ongoing mission to see what we can develop. Just coming together and collectively sharing our wisdom offers hope.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.