Catholic advocates not about to forget Ferguson riots

Missouri parishioners march after riots in Ferguson, Mo. (CNS photo)

Missouri parishioners march after riots in Ferguson, Mo. (CNS photo)

Less than three months after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, discussions about race and role of police officers may have fallen off the 24-hour-news cycle’s radar but they have not been forgotten by Catholic social ministry advocates.

During Feb. 8 workshops at the annual Catholic Social Ministries Gathering in Washington the topic of Ferguson — and all the issues that meld with it — understandably came up in a session called “Encountering Christ by Transforming Conflict and Violence,” but the topic also was raised in the workshop: “Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World on Campus.”

In the college workshop, primarily focusing on campus social ministry outreach, a student speaker said he thought he knew all about social justice from his experiences of helping the poor, but his understanding took on much deeper meaning after the riots late November in Ferguson.

Joshua Tovey, a junior political science and philosophy major at the University of Dayton in Ohio, said the riots, five hours away from campus, came closer to home when the campus ministry house and a black fraternity were both egged, and he was convinced he had to take a stand.

“That’s when it hit me what social justice meant,” he said. “When I saw students lose their dignity, I realized I had to do more.”

He joined protesters at the university holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and worried a little bit about what his friends or parents would think, especially since his picture from a protest was on the cover of a university publication. But ultimately, he said, he was convinced he needed to “love others the way Christ loves me” even — and maybe even especially —  if that meant taking a stand against injustices.

At another workshop at the Catholic Social Ministries Gathering, Eli McCarthy, an adjunct professor of justice and peace studies at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, highlighted Scripture passages and words from various popes about the need for peace.

He also spoke about forming DC Peace Team, a group that teaches nonviolent conflict intervention skills, that he formed four years ago along with former prisoner Cortez McDaniel.

McCarthy told the group of social justice advocates that the growth of these types of teams is crucial in diffusing conflict and violence in the nation’s cities and stressed that there should be a national model for this work so that locals could monitor their own neighborhoods.

Cortez urged the workshop attendees to get involved. “Go home and ask yourself: ‘Am I in or not? If I’m in, I have to be committed.’”

“You can’t just hand out sandwiches” and think you are helping the poor, he said, reminding them there is much more to be done, particularly in making communities safe.

“It’s about the long haul,” he said.

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