By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 25, 2015
ATLANTA—Parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Atlanta prayed for strength for the people of Charleston, South Carolina, and healing for the nation at a special Mass June 20.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the vigil Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes for the nine victims of the tragic June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
The parish’s neighboring churches Ebenezer Baptist Church and Big Bethel A.M.E. Church held prayer services on June 18 and June 19, respectively. Father Bryan Small, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, Dominican Father Jeffery Ott, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, and Father Vic Galier, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, Atlanta, attended the vigil at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.
“The sense of community and solidarity was truly quite palpable,” said Father Small in an email. “It was less than 24 hours after the tragedy took place and it was in each others’ presence that we reminded, sang, and prayed what every Christian of every denomination believes; that the God who spoke the first word, the God who gave us the Word made flesh is also the same God who has the final word, and that word is love.”
The Ebenezer service, organized by its pastor, the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, was well attended, said Father Ott.
“We simply had prayer,” said Father Ott. “It was a time for coming together.”
Representatives of The Temple, Bishop Robert C. Wright, of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, the Muslim community, and many churches attended.
Father Ott said the service featured beautiful music and a time for lamenting and reflection. Psalm 64, a psalm of protection from the threat of the enemy, was the reading.
The pipe organ chimed nine times for each life lost in Charleston: Cynthia Hurd, 54; Suzy Jackson, 87; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45: and Myra Thompson, 59.
Family members exchanged ‘forgiveness for vengeance’
Our Lady of Lourdes joins eight other churches, including Ebenezer Baptist and Big Bethel, as part of a loose coalition of Auburn Avenue area churches. They assist one another, and the large number of homeless in the area.
In his homily at Our Lady of Lourdes, Archbishop Gregory focused on the Gospel reading from St. Mark—when the frightened disciples awake a sleeping Jesus as the sea and winds rage against their boat.
“No one ever drowns when Jesus is in the boat! That is the awe-inspiring majesty of the response of the family members of those whose lives were viciously taken a few days ago in Charleston, South Carolina,” said Archbishop Gregory. “Their courageous and compassionate willingness to exchange forgiveness for vengeance is a faith witness that reminds us all of the ultimate triumph of love over hatred, especially in those moments when hatred has made such a powerful public display of its evil presence.”
Faith is not a substitute for moral courage
The archbishop noted that in this Gospel account, writer Mark does not mention if the disciples took other actions, as experienced fisherman, before calling upon Jesus.
Archbishop Gregory reminded everyone that people of faith are not helpless and are obliged to work for lasting peace and justice even in the face of strong wind, in this case violence and hatred.
Faith is not, said the archbishop, a substitute for moral courage, a placebo for living, or an excuse for lack of effort.
“We must redouble our efforts to pursue justice wherever we encounter injustice,” he said. “Faith is an act of confidence that Jesus is in the boat of life and therefore we are safe even in the face of the sea and the wind for they must ultimately obey the Lord of all creation.”
Father Ott particularly related to a reference by the archbishop to a “tsunami of violence and hatred” in the nation.
“I think that is so apt and so true,” said Father Ott.
In a time of concern, parishioners were honored to receive comfort and insights from Archbishop Gregory, said the pastor.
“People were really pleased that he came to celebrate with us,” said Father Ott.
Parishes are encouraged to continue including the Charleston community, the victims and their loved ones in Prayers of the Faithful this week.