We live in a violent world. Terrorism intimidates society’s citizens. The fear of random violence forces us to change our behavior. Remember when you could walk to the airline gate to greet a friend or relative arriving on a plane or enter a public building without going through a metal detector?
Pirates once thought to be an occupation reserved to Robert Louis Stevenson novels or movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” exist today and are now shown on the evening news capturing ships and holding passengers for ransom.
Violent drug cartels hold whole towns and even countries hostage with their ruthless behavior. Many of our movies depict a violent response with a shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up theme.
I never thought that anyone would ever attempt to assassinate the pope, yet I was in Rome on May 13, 1981, when John Paul II was shot. Violence leaves us helpless. It’s difficult to figure out what to do.
Last year I joined in the annual initiative called Ceasefire Sabbath, a program designed to bring religious representatives, community leaders, elected officials and law enforcement personnel together to preach and teach a common message of non-violence with the hopes of limiting violent crimes and making communities in the Milwaukee neighborhoods safer.
A few years ago, Mayor Tom Barrett approached my predecessor, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, with a proposal to begin a program addressing the criminal violence in our neighborhoods with the hope of reducing violent crimes. Archbishop Dolan reasoned that if we are concerned with the violence that occurs in various areas of the world like Europe, Africa and Latin America, then we should also be concerned with the fact that right here in Milwaukee our young people are dying from senseless violence.
Perhaps if civic and religious leaders gave attention to this issue and cooperated with law enforcement, we might put a dent in violent crimes. It takes the raising of our consciousness and the assumption of responsible action to make a difference in addressing violent crimes.
In a May 12 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, “Violent crime falls again in Milwaukee,” some attributed the five-year downward trend to collaborative efforts of neighborhood residents and local police departments. But behavioral science cannot assess the total picture, because it has no way to assess the spiritual.
However, it’s important to see the whole picture of life. When one embraces the whole of reality, including the spiritual, then one begins to understand one’s responsibility for brothers and sisters within our society.
We have lost our sense of sin and with it our accountability. The greater the sense of religion in one’s life, the better the person and the more responsible the citizen. The Christian cannot ignore the pain experienced in the community but must assume some responsibility and attempt to effect change. The Gospel mandates it.
Violent crimes are rooted in various circumstances: economics, lack of education, psychological, drugs. It’s obvious that most crime occurs in economically deprived areas. If we could begin to correct some of the sources of disparity – jobs, education and health care – that exist in our communities, we might even further limit the number of crimes.
There was an advertisement a few years ago about the importance of light and how light creates a deterrence to anyone who might seek to commit a wrongdoing. We must be the light for our communities. We must become the eyes and ears of activities in our neighborhoods so that anyone who might think that they can commit a crime without detection would understand that eyes are on them.
Our law enforcement officials need our assistance. Unfortunately, this last year we have experienced a number of deaths of those brave individuals who serve and protect. They placed their lives on the line to ensure our safety, and we owe it to their memories and to their colleagues still on the streets to support their efforts and minimize the risk that they must take.
A safe community means the enjoyment of our surroundings without worry or fear and the economic savings that accompanies the lack of injury to person and property. The reduction of violence is a concern that transcends political parties and focuses on the common good. This year Ceasefire Sabbath weekend will take place Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22. Hopefully, our pastors will make reference to this worthy effort.
Let us concentrate on the ways we might be of assistance to our communities. Perhaps we can accomplish this in the simple observance of our surroundings or the knowledge of important phone numbers of local law enforcement offices but always, as people of faith, we can pray for those who are the victims of violence, for those law enforcement individuals who protect our well being and for the violent offenders for their change of heart.