By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
CORALVILLE — On the eve of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, St. Thomas More parishioners participated in a prayer vigil for healing and an end to racism on the church’s front lawn.
A diverse group of people sat in lawn chairs, wore face coverings, and physically distanced themselves for the protection of others because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of them spoke at the prayer vigil, sharing a prayer, Scripture or reflection.
“The event was structured in a way for our St. Thomas More Parish community to show strong support for African-Americans and all Black communities in our Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty areas,” said Dimy Doresca, who chairs the parish’s Social Justice Commission.
The good turnout “sends the vibrant message that racism has no place in our society. We want to take actions in our own parish, our homes, our schools, our government offices to say enough is enough and to implore our Lord God to instill his law of love and compassion among all of us.”
The Social Justice Commission sponsored the event and chose a variety of speakers to play important roles. They included Coralville Mayor John Lundell and Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Gross, a youth representative, white parishioners, Black parishioners, and Father Chuck Adam, the pastor.
Doresca said he hoped the vigil would inspire participants to “ask God to strengthen us so we can have the difficult conversations on racism among ourselves in order to identify concrete solutions to treat African-Americans and all Blacks with respect and reverence. We all deserve a space to live, grow and shine, and achieve our best potentials with no fear of being looked down upon, disrespected or oppressed. What better time to have this prayer vigil against racism than on the eve of the commemoration of Juneteenth, the oldest national celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S.!”
In his remarks, Gross, the mayor pro tem and St. Thomas More parishioner, identified a “robust list of recommendations and questions” for the Coralville Police Department. The recommendations included:
• Banning of all chokeholds by police.
• An equal amount of hours for training in de-escalation tactics and in addressing implicit bias as police officers would receive for weapons training.
• Providing mental health support for police officers.• Creation of Citizen Review Boards with autonomy and independence to properly address and investigate complaints made against policing in Coralville
• Data collection of the racial breakdown of traffic stops and use-of-force data broken down by race and situation.
“These are big ‘asks’ and they are long overdue,” Gross said. “But let me be clear — my faith AND confidence in the Coralville Police Department is marrow-deep.” He believes the police department has the capability to “be the shining example of justice that will be seen from miles away.”
He called for honest conversations about the history of policing in the U.S., especially as it relates to people of color. All people must be engaged in “honest conversations about the history of white supremacy in this country. To my fellow white people, we must be part of the solution. After all, people of color were not the ones who created a prejudiced, racist, unjust system that has plagued our country for 400 years.”
Gross quoted Pope Francis, responding to the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 while in police custody. The pope said, “… we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Gross asked for the intercession of St. Martin de Porres, patron saint of those seeking racial harmony.
Father Adam shared a prayer for racial healing from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled “Wake Me Up Lord” (https://tinyurl.com/y7xazs3u). Pastoral council member Karen Grajczyk asked for God’s grace to “work for the things we pray for.” She shared a pledge of action the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas wrote. Among other things, they pledged to examine their own biases and positions of privilege, to be consciously inclusive of all individuals, to affirm the value of diversity and to transform “our institutions into authentically anti-racist and anti-oppressive communities of action.”
The prayer service concluded with Doresca’s daughter Alice, 15, performing on the cello, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
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