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Recent shooting unites Buffalo churches

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WNY Peacekeepers, Buffalo Police officers, area ministers and concerned citizens raise their hands in blessing of JFK Park, the site of a recent shooting that left four people wounded. Photo by Patrick J. Buechi

A shooting in Buffalo’s East Side in mid-June hit home for Father William “Jud” Weiksnar, OFM, quite literally. The pastor of SS. Columba-Brigid Parish had a bullet enter his friary from across the street at JFK Park. The June 23 shooting injured four people using the park.

“I was in my second-floor bedroom and office,” Father Weiksnar said of the incident which took place just before 7 p.m. “I had my earphones in. I was listening to music working on my laptop, and I heard a loud bang. I looked over and saw that my shelves were shaking. I looked out the window then and saw a commotion across the street and heard gunshots and saw cars peeling out across the street at the basketball courts. I called 911 and said there appears to have been a shooting across the street.”

After arriving back in his room, he saw a bullet seven feet away from where he had been sitting, leaving a small hole in the wall.

“It hit my selves hard enough to make them shake. It actually hit one of my stoles that I use for Mass, bounced off the stole and landed on the carpet.”

The incident sparked Father Weiksnar to hold a prayer service June 30, at the basketball courts of JFK Park, where two boys where injured.

“We’re going to pray for the people who were shot. We’re going to pray for our first responders including police. We’re going to pray for peace in the community. And we’re going to pray for the shooters. We hope the prayer will lead us to some kind of action,” he said just before the event.

Reverend Rachelle Robinson and Pastor Jonathan Staples listen to Father William “Jud” Weiksnar lead a prayer to end gun violence in the city. The prayer service took place one week after a shooting. Photo by Patrick J. Buechi

A prayer service held June 30, 7 p.m., exactly one week after the shooting, saw a crowd that started at 30 and grew over the course 30-minute service. Those who gathered spoke on their love and concern for their neighborhood, and began to take steps to make it a better, safer place.

“Tonight’s gathering is for prayer,” Father Weiksnar said, opening the service. “There is a time for prayer, there is a time for work, and the work involves politics, it involves discussion, it involves debate. That’s not what we’re about here, tonight. Tonight, we’re here to lift up our voices in prayer for our neighborhood, for our city, and for our nation.”

Pastor Jonathan Staples, senior pastor of First Shiloh Baptist Church, spoke on the rise of gun violence in major cities.

“We gather tonight, not to talk about the Second Amendment and whether or not people can have guns or not. We gather to simply say, enough is enough. We are not here to support funding or defunding the police. We are here to pray for our community. We are here to seek a healing balm. We are here because mothers are losing sons, and sisters are losing brothers. And it’s happening right in our community, a community where people of color reside,” he said, drawing amens and applause.

“We are not here because we have all of the answers, but rather we are here because we know the One who does. And God has declared ‘That if My people who are called by my name humble themselves and seek my face and pray,’ That God would hear from heaven and God would heal the land. We are here because our land needs healing,” he continued.

Reverend Rachelle Sat’chell Robinson, from the New Covenant United Church of Christ, recalled the words of her godfather, “Evil relies on good people to be quiet.”

“Well good people, don’t let evil rely on you. Be the good people that speak up, that come together, that unify together. Because we can do nothing separate, but we can do a whole lot together,” she said.

Reverend Robinson grew up in the city. She gets mad when she hears about violence in her neighborhood because the city is turning into something she does not want it to be. “I believe that this too shall pass, and it will pass if we stay together, if we remain unified, if we can see each other differently, but appreciate each other,” she said.

Father Weiksnar then offered his microphone to anyone in the crowd who wanted to offer words of inspiration or consolation. The crowd heard from Rachel, who agrees that we need to be “squeaky wheels” and speak up when we know of violence. She regularly calls 311 to report non-emergency police matters. “We’re all neighbors, we’re a community. We can’t let someone win and take our community away from us. I’m not going to let it happen,” she said.

Before the evening was through, connections were made and at least one problem was solved. When a volunteer from Soccer for Success, a youth development program started by the U.S. Soccer Foundation, said kids were too traumatized to participate, Pastor Kenneth Simmons, from Cold Spring Bible Chapel, volunteered his Mad Dads to chaperone the games.

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