Mass held before March for Our Lives decries gun violence, urges action

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BOSTON -- A poster, bright red and depicting a pencil poised over the words "Erase Gun Violence" lay against a pew at St. Anthony Shrine. At first glance, the colors and message seemed almost out of place; they brought to mind protests and demonstrations, things typically at contrast with the solemnity and quiet of a church. Yet, during the morning Mass it was present for, the March 24 liturgy of peace, healing, and justice held directly before Boston's "March for Our Lives" rally; it was the poster that perhaps best captured the emotional undercurrents of the service.

Dozens attended the Mass, coming together from different communities and different walks of life to profess a shared faith, and a shared demand to end gun violence.

The Mass was held prior to the "March for Our Lives" rally, which saw tens of thousands march from Roxbury to the Boston Common to call on lawmakers to act against gun violence through policies that would include banning assault rifles, limiting those who can legally purchase firearms, and increasing programs for mental health.

The Boston rally was one of hundreds held throughout the country in solidarity with a major rally in Washington, D.C. Youth-led, the rallies have been spurred on by the continued activism of the student survivors of the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead and over a dozen injured.

They were, as homilist Deacon Paul Kline said during the Mass, "brought here, maybe even driven here, by a shared sense of urgency."

"We simply feel that we have no choice any longer," he said. "We have to be here."

The principal celebrant of the Mass was Father Jim Flavin, Episcopal Vicar for the Central Region. Remarks were offered by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley before the start of the Mass.

In his remarks, Cardinal O'Malley commended the Parkland student survivors for their "refusal to be silent," for "leading our society in an examination of conscience about violence, guns and our laws and policies concerning these matters."

School shootings have had a "galvanizing impact on the public," he said, but we must also remember the young people across the country who are killed in the streets, and must address the "devastation to families and neighborhoods, often in our poorest communities."

"The Second Amendment to the Constitution affirms the right of citizens to own firearms. But any right has its limits; hence all rights require regulation. We recognize that truth with regard to the rights of free speech, free association and the practice of religious beliefs," said the cardinal.

"Regulating access to guns, defining what is a reasonable framework which recognizes the constitutional right but also recognizes that our public policy concerning firearms, as it currently stands, is failing our children, our schools and our public safety, is the motivation and the focus of the Marches today in Washington, Boston and throughout the United States," he continued.

In his homily, Deacon Kline, who is also a professor at the Boston College School of Social Work, said, "Today, it seems we no longer have the option to stay home. We've heard too much, we've seen too much," said.

From the pain and suffering in the faces of young survivors of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, to the terror seen in survivors of the 2017 mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas, to the cellphone recordings made by students during the Parkland shooting, we have seen and heard too much, said Deacon Kline.

"We have seen their faces, we have heard their voices. We have seen too much, staying home is no longer an option. So, here we are. Driven here under the influence of strong emotions -- outrage, grief, worry, anxiety," he said.

Yet, he continued, there is "something more at work here." Something more than just an outpouring of emotion. The restlessness that we feel to get up and raise our voices, "that restlessness is more than just outrage and grief and despair. That restless is God's grace at work in us," he said.

It is the grace of our baptism, "calling us to speak as prophets. It is the grace of our baptism pushing us to not surrender to cynicism, to not give into fear, to not be paralyzed by self-doubt and insecurity. The restlessness is grace at work, pushing us out into the world as disciples."

"It is God" said Deacon Kline, "calling us to heal those broken by violence, and to heal our wounded world."

Meghan O'Beirne, a clinical social work intern and a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Boston, was one of those who attended the liturgy of peace, healing, and justice. She said she felt called to the Mass to peacefully protest the "epidemic" of gun violence.

"I'm just so happy for this space so we could come together as a community and speak out and talk about what's been going on in our country," she said.

Deacon Joseph McGinley of St. Ann Catholic Church in the Diocese of Fall River and his wife, Sue McGinley, wore matching "March for Our Lives" shirts to the Mass. They attended the liturgy, said Deacon McGinley, because he and his wife decided "we have had enough."

"We have children, we have grandchildren, we're both in education so we are in schools all the time. It all really hits home," he said.

The prayer and singing at the Mass, the unity it created, "reminded us where our strength comes from," he said.

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