Baton Rouge bishop urges community not to give in to anger, fear

Sandra Sterling reacts during a July 7 vigil in memory of her nephew, Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police outside a market in Baton Rouge, La. Sterling, 37, was killed early July 5 in a shooting that was captured on cellphone video. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Dubinsky, Reuters)

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- Bishop Robert W. Muench of Baton Rouge is urging the local community to be "ministers of healing to a hurting world" while protests are taking place about the police shooting of a black man outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge July 5.

"This week in our community, as in our nation, and as in our world, we find ourselves facing the many emotions that accompany acts of violence. We experience sadness, anger, frustration, and fear," the bishop said in a July 7 statement.

The statement was issued two days after 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed as two white police officers wrestled him to the ground, an action posted online by a cellphone video of the shooting.

The bishop urged members of the community not to let anger move them "to inflict pain on others" but instead to be "ambassadors of hope and mercy."

"May fear not lead us into despair," he said, urging the community to be moved by "the grace of Christ's suffering for us" and in turn "impart that grace to one another."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked the U.S. Justice Department July 6 to lead a civil rights investigation into the killing.

"I have very serious concerns. The video is disturbing, to say the least," the governor said at a news conference.

According to news reports, Sterling was confronted by police after an anonymous caller reported being threatened by someone with a gun outside the Baton Rouge convenience store.

In the video footage, someone yells, "He's got a gun! Gun!" and an officer pulled a gun from his holster. After some shouting, what sounds like a gunshot can be heard.

A statement from the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, which includes Christian churches from around the state, said "local religious leaders and civic authorities have called for calm as the investigation unfolds."

The statement also said the group joins in prayer for Sterling's family, the Baton Rouge neighborhoods and "authorities as they attempt to provide answers to the questions that this death raises."

"We pray that as our communities, state and nation continue to grapple with violence and tragic deaths, we may address the scourge of racism that continues to surface in so many of these events," it continued.

The group, which includes members from the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Baton Rouge and Houma-Thibodaux dioceses, said: "We call for calm as citizens assemble in response to this event, and ask for prayers for those who grieve."

Just days after Sterling's shooting, Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer during a July 8 traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Falcon Heights.

In response to the shooting, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis planned to celebrate a "Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice" at the Cathedral of Saint Paul July 8.

"As people of faith, we turn to the Lord in challenging times, seeking not only his consolation and healing but also his wisdom and guidance," he said in a July 8 statement.

The archbishop, stressing the need to come together "in the midst of anger, fear and frustration," said the congregation would ask God to console the Castile family and also to "heal the divisions in our community, to guide our public servants in their pursuit of the common good and to satisfy the longings of those who thirst for justice and peace."

On Relevant Radio's "The Rediscover Hour" with host Jeff Cavins, Archbishop Hebda said he has been encouraging local Catholics to pray for Castile and his family and loved ones, as well as to pray for society and communities "that we might be places of peace and a place where the dignity of each human life is respected, where we come to know each other as sons and daughters of God and recognize that image of God in each of us."

Reaction to both shootings sparked peaceful protests across the country, including the protest in Dallas which ended with at least one sniper opening fire and killing five Dallas law enforcement officers.

Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell said the city had been "swept up in the escalating cycle of violence that has now touched us intimately."

"We cannot lose respect for each other," he said, urging civic leaders to "work together to come to a sensible resolution to this escalating violence."

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