By Anna Hamilton
There are often no words when a death happens, especially when it results from murder. We often ask “What do I say? “How should I act?” or “What can I do?” There may be a more simple guidepost for our response – “Be Present.”
I used to wonder why large groups of people were gathering on street corners. It wasn’t until I began working as a youth minister 15 years ago that I experienced the murder of a youth in the community. This was when I had to ask myself the hard question, “What can we do as a community to support the family?” We decided to hold an outdoor prayer vigil at the church. It was then that I learned our presence to the family and the youth who knew the young man was the greatest gift we could offer.
As of September 2017, the City of San Bernardino has had 25 homicides. The County of San Bernardino is at an all-time high of 86 homicides. At the same time in 2016, San Bernardino County had already experienced 84 homicides. Riverside County has seen approximately 28 homicides in 2017.
Even one murder is too much. We have too many families who are suffering at the hands of evil.
The Diocese of San Bernardino believes in journeying with the families and the community during these difficult times. The Office of Restorative Justice has been building bridges within the community along with Inter-faith clergy and leaders by sponsoring monthly community prayer walks to various homicide sites around the City of San Bernardino. We partner with other non-profit groups who support the families of murder victims. Within the Diocese, we host annual Memorial Masses in all the vicariates for the families. We train and offer a ten-step support group for those seeking healing from their grief and we provide a tool kit of resources for the families who have lost a loved one to murder. All our programs and materials are offered in English and Spanish.
Now, we are embarking on a new action as an immediate response to murders that occur; we will be taking our prayer to the streets where homicides are taking place. Beginning October 1, should we see any further homicides, the Office of Restorative Justice, along with the Vicars Forane of the Diocese, will be inviting the parishes and the wider community to come and join us for a bilingual inter-faith based prayer at or around the site of the homicide within the first couple weeks of the murder. It is our hope to gather, to pray for peace and for the soul of the deceased, as well as peace for the families and the community.
When you see this invitation, we encourage you to join us and to be a presence for the voiceless. This simple contribution is a compassionate act of love and one that we hope will bring a model of healing for all.
Anna Hamilton is the Associate Director of the Diocesan Office of Restorative Justice.