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Bishop Fisher Catholic Life Features

#Onebody prayer service deals with pain caused by racial hatred

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It’s a basic rule of physics. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When violence hurts good people, the good people pray.

When a white supremacist marched into a supermarket in a Black neighborhood and began a shooting rampage, the friends and neighbors of those victims met for a prayer session to civilly discuss what had happened and look for healing.

The ministry known as #Onebody hosted a prayer service via Zoom on May 17, just days after the weekend shooting.

“Some could not be here today. Some could not live to see another day. Their lives have ended by the acts of an individual. Their lives ended due to racial hate,” explained Dr. Marianne E. Partee, one of the founders of #Onebody, as the service opened.

Through the 90-minute service, guest speakers reflected on the need for racial healing.

Babtunde Cole, an agent with New York Life Insurance Company, knew some of the victims. He said the shooting left him “sad and a bit discouraged.”

One of the victims was Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard who tried to stop the lone gunman. Cole said, as a black man knowing that doing the right thing can lead to your demise, is “disheartening.”

Jason Perri, dean of students for SUNY Erie, was shocked that something this violent could happen in Buffalo, a place known as the City of Good Neighbors. As it became clear the act of terror was perpetrated by a white supremacist, he became angry. “I tried hard to channel that anger and sadness into something positive for the institution where I work.” Racial healing circles will take place at all ECC campuses to reflect on pushing thoughts and prayers into action.

He has 500 students from the Jefferson Avenue area, where the shooting took place. They probably know someone who was killed.

Perri challenged the 100 people at the meeting to go beyond prayers. “We are not doing enough when people are getting murdered, and a worldview said white people were better than them,” he said. “It takes white people confronting other white people to unpack that.”

Father Ron Sajdak, currently pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Harris Hill, knows the Jefferson Avenue neighborhood from his days as pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish. He was at the Tops store the day before the shooting. He said he was pleased to see the condemnation of white supremacist nation from the participants.

Among the 100 participants – the limit of the Zoom account – were Bishop Michael W. Fisher, who called Tops “a chilling scene,” after his visit earlier that day. “We need to wrap our arms around that community and not let go. We can’t forget this,” he said, adding he has seen racial violence and segregation growing up in Baltimore.

Father Sean Paul Fleming, rector of St. Joseph Cathedral and director of the diocesan Office of Worship; Deacon Steve Schumer, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, and members of the diocesan African American Commission also attended.  

#Onebody began 2016, the year that civil unrest over racial tensions led to riots in Baltimore, Dallas and Ferguson, Missouri.

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