By Sister Suzanne Gallagher, Sisters of Mercy Justice Team Member
“Lord, make me a channel of your peace.”
These words from the “Prayer of St. Francis” are familiar to many of us. They beg the question, “How can we be channels of God’s peace in a world where so much violence surrounds us?”
Take Back the Site prayer vigils in Erie, Pennsylvania, offer a powerful way.
Since November 1999, Take Back the Site members have held vigils at any location in Erie or nearby Millcreek Township where deaths that are ruled to be homicides have occurred. More than 100 vigils have been held since then. Started by the Benedictines, the vigils are now sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie and oblates; the Sisters of St. Joseph, agrégées and associates; and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and associates. Mercy Sister Natalie Rossi often facilitates the vigils.
The Sisters of Mercy’s Nonviolence Interest Group spoke with Natalie about the prayer vigils to learn more.
Natalie said that the goal of Take Back the Site is to reclaim the place where violence has occurred by blessing the space, by the prayerful presence of those gathered, and by praying for all who are harmed by violence: the victims, their families, as well as the perpetrators. This action comes from a deep belief that a nonviolent way of life is possible.
Family, friends, neighbors and those committed to be a presence for peace and nonviolence take part in the vigils. At times the media is present, which allows the message of peace to spread throughout the city.
The vigils illustrate how to be a presence of peace and nonviolence in the communities where we live. “Rooting nonviolence in our lives is a day-to-day, moment-to-moment discipline,” says author and Mercy historian Sister Katherine Doyle.
So, first, let us ask ourselves, as members of a community of Mercy, “How can we each be a channel of God’s peace?” Then, let us look for opportunities in our private, community and civic lives to channel it there.