By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — In recent weeks, the TV news reports, newspapers and magazines as well as online news feeds have been so packed with stories of murder and mayhem, amber alerts and hatred-based vandalism, there’s almost no room for anything else. They breed a never-ending cycle of fear, anger, and divisiveness.
Guardian Angels Parish in Westport lies in the KCPD Central Patrol Division, and is no stranger to what’s in the news. Deacon Tyrone Gutierrez, pastoral administrator, and Jesuit Father Bob Hagan, parochial vicar and sacramental minister for the parish, decided to do something different — invite people to take a step toward peace and unity. They called for a prayer service, welcoming all who would attend. But not just prayers and hymns. Real people on the frontlines, Catholics, Christians, Jews and first responders were invited to share their stories and hopes with those in attendance. Pray KC was held in the church Feb. 21.
Guardian Angels was founded in 1909 as a German parish, and quickly learned during WWI what that meant. An American flag and flag pole rose south of the present church which was dedicated in 1924. Loyalty, friendship and cooperation became watchwords for the parishioners.
Loyalty, friendship and cooperation were present during the prayer service. Father Hagan’s opening remarks focused on communication. He urged those in attendance to work on communication, based on love, forgiveness and healing. “This country has a lot of healing to do,” he said.
The choir led about 150 people in songs of peace, beginning with the Prayer of St. Francis, “Let me be a channel of your peace …” Several speakers shared thoughts, stories and hopes.
Marvin Szneler, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee, representing the 15,000 members of the Jewish community in the Kansas City area, said, “We learned long ago that no one should stand alone for justice … we should all stand together.” He then linked Exodus 3:11-15 to the present. When God sent Moses to bring the sons of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, he told him, “Certainly I will be with you,” Szneler said. “Basically, ‘you’re going and I’m going with you.’ This tells me that if I see somebody mistreating somebody else right in front of me, and I get up enough courage to stand up to the bully and say ‘Stop!’ I’m not alone, God is with me. … Let us pray together that the days of violence to individuals and to families end soon!”
Kansas City Police Sgt. Jason Cooley of the East Patrol, recognized as the Missouri Police Officer of the Year in 2015, said he couldn’t think of a better venue than a church to step up and take a lead on an issue like violence. “Events like this,” he went on, “get people involved in praying, praying for us, for everything the police department is trying to do in this city, and that’s definitely going to help. We need the support.” He pointed out two uniformed officers, to applause, and Gina English, the first social worker for the KCPD.
Both Sgt. Cooley and Father Hagan reminded those in the audience that first responders — police, fire and emergency departments — need prayers.
Deacon Tyrone Gutierrez spoke of different types of violence: political, physical and mental, and the frustration, fear and hopelessness that follows. He remembered watching the news as a child and asking his parents for reassurance that what he was watching occurring in faraway countries would stay far away. Although he received that assurance, the violence is now happening close to home. “Where did we go wrong, where did we make a wrong turn?” He said he was grateful for those who attended the prayer service, who came to “pray for an end to violence, unity and for the safety of our first responders … it’s their job to protect us all and we’re very grateful.”
He then spoke of the “Greatest Generation,” men and women born in the first decades of the 20th century who worked to make their country second to none. “But,” he said, “we can’t just rest on the laurels of that generation. They did a lot of great things. But we’re called, as a people, to build on their accomplishments, and grow ever stronger year by year. We need to view their accomplishments, learn from their mistakes so our children will have better lives.”
In closing, Father Charles Rowe, Vicar General of the diocese, thanked all who came to speak, to sing and to pray. In prayer he asked God who created mankind in his image, and had, throughout history, offered comfort to human beings to “draw them back to you and to one another. May this evening of sacrifice and praise be pleasing in your sight. Lighten our darkened climes, strengthen our feeble hearts, heal our wounded souls … Take our hands and guide us in the paths of righteousness and peace. Make us one, united.”
As the prayer ended, the choir led all in the church in singing “Let there be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me …,” a song that has promoted peace worldwide since Jill Jackson wrote it in 1955.
Guardian Angels Parish hopes to make this a regular event.