What happened in Charleston should not happen in our world today. It was so shocking that I was in denial the first day. I had an appointment outside of the city and took my time to return. To be in proximity of Emanuel AME church where nine people were shot and killed, my psyche just couldn’t accept this reality. It was on every news channel, it was in our neighborhood, it was down the street, it was in a Church, it happened to our brothers and sisters. When I did come back to Charleston I made a point to drive by the Church. The media dominated the roads and sidewalks. There were a few flowers being placed in front of the Church. A few people gathered. Cars drove very slowly. I made it a point not to take photos since the car in front of me, with its top down, was doing just that. This isn’t the time, I thought. This is the time to pray. Then we can continue to tell the world what happened. Besides the media were doing their job well enough.
The next morning, after a restless night of many rosaries, my community decided to say morning prayers at the AME Church. We needed to be present there. We needed to pray there even though we were praying in our chapel as well. The risk of being present was that of getting bombarded by news channels. No risk at all considering the risk nine people took when they invited a stranger into their Bible Study. We told the police we just wanted to pray. They let us in behind the police tape. Sr. Mary Thecla led the Office for the Dead from the Liturgy of the Hours. Being there and praying for those who died was powerful. The clicking of cameras reminded me of the clicking of rosary beads. To the credit of the media no one disturbed us until we were walking back to our car. We answered questions and gave testimony to Christ – the reason these people died.
Then I understood in a renewed way that these nine men and women, dedicated to living a Christian life, died for their belief. Yes, this was an act of racism and hate – and their belief redeemed that horrible act. An editorial cartoon of Jesus crying as he sat in the blood of these men and women running from the AME Church made the rounds on Social Media. An even more appropriate depiction would be Jesus dying with them in the Church – Jesus shot and killed with them. He was in their midst – where two or three are gathered….
The words of Fr. Henry, Pastor at St. Patrick’s Church, are still echoing in my heart. “A man walks into a Church where he can choose to pray, where he can choose to open his heart to God through the scriptures, where he can surrender to his creator – instead he ignored prayer, he closed his heart to the Word of God, and he only trusted in himself. Do we do this in smaller ways?” he asked. Fr. Henry quoted one of his parishioners who said, “We all have a civil war going on inside ourselves.” Even St. Paul said this, “I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” (Rom. 7:19). Fr. Henry reminded us that we all need conversion to accept those around us. I renewed my understanding of prayer: turn to God in all things. Don’t go it alone.
We made a sign for our book center window that read, “Our prayers are with the Emanuel AME Church Family.” We left a similar sign at the AME church with our names on it. People came into the center all day on Thursday. I overheard phone conversations of people who knew those who died, or relatives, and I was inspired by the amount of faith they had. The way the community came together amazed me. Everyone attended various prayer services to pray for the families and for God’s grace to us keep us united. I’m not just going to pass by any church now. Now, I will pause to say a prayer for the people in that church.
When the families publicly forgave their loved one’s murderer Church homilies focused on forgiveness around the United States. The witness the AME family gave is very powerful. They could not forgive like that if they had not been living it. This act helped bring the community together to defeat evil. Diabolical means to throw apart. Where there is the Spirit of God there is unity. With forgiveness we are reminded that all lives matter.
At a particularly Catholic gathering we joined Bishop Robert Guglielmone to pray the rosary in front of Emanuel AME Church. Other visitors joined us in prayer as was evidenced during the Our Father. Some voices continued with “for thine is the kingdom…”.
As the week went on people used Social Media to share photos, thoughts, and prayers. It was healing to post on Facebook, tweet links, and share photos on Instagram. We followed God’s lead of putting the Emanuel AME Church on a lamp stand so their light would shine all over the world. We said “yes” to their hope by locking arms across the bridge 10,000 strong, by being mindful of others, by filling up our churches on Sunday, and by assisting the Emanuel AME community.
We don't know how to pray at times. Then the Spirit prays for us (Rom. 8:28). The unity we experience is the Spirit’s movement. The Spirit prayed over Charleston and the people said, Amen!
Other articles with insights from the people of Charleston:
Copyright 2015 Sister Margaret Kerry, fsp.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp. 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sisters at Prayer in the Pauline Center. Used with Permission. Deidre Mays. 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Pauline Books & Media Center. Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp. 2015. All Rights Reserved.
The Catholic Community Gathered with the Bishop. Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp. 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sidewalk Memorial at the AME Church. Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp. 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sister at Prayer Painting. Copyright, Daughters of St. Paul. 2010. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
A Daughter of St. Paul for 40 years Sr. Margaret continues to pursue new ways to proclaim the Gospel: sharing the Pauline Charism with the laity, writing books (St. Anthony of Padua: Fire & Light; Strength in Darkness: John of the Cross; Prayers for the New Evangelization), & through direct evangelization. She is available for workshops on the Vocation & Mission of the Laity, Media Literacy, and The New Evangelization. firstname.lastname@example.org