Peace and Love to Charlottesville

I love Charlottesville.  For nearly a decade, Charlottesville has been my favorite retreat from the chaos of big cities.  I have family who live, just barely outside of cell-signal range, in the breathtaking rolling hills west of town.  My fiancé, Brad, attended – and I seriously considered attending – the University of Virginia Law School.  I love visiting.  I’ve explored its romantic colonial streets; hiked its peaceful mountains; day-dreamed about living there forever.

But this year Charlottesville has become a flashpoint for racial tension.  After years of studied discussion, the City Council voted in February to remove confederate statutes and rename two confederate-honoring parks.  (One of those parks, Stonewall Jackson park, was built after the city in 1914 seized land from private citizens in order to destroy a burgeoning black community.)  The parks have since been renamed, but plans to remove the statute stalled when the City was sued under a state law protecting historic monuments.  A month ago a small KKK rally at Justice Park (formerly Stonewall Jackson park) was overwhelmed by a thousand counter-protestors.  When a “Unite the Right” group applied for a permit to hold a further rally, they had to obtain a federal court order protecting their right to free speech.  Counter-protestors again rallied to flood the streets.

This weekend I was headed to Charlottesville to see my family when chaos erupted.  Skirmishes had broken out downtown; the police had intervened; and then a neo-Nazi sympathizer had sped his car into the crowd, killing a woman and injuring many.  My plans changed rapidly.  There would be no leisurely window-shopping stroll around the downtown streets.  I would not be attending evening mass with my fiancé at Holy Comforter Catholic Church, located directly between the two controversial parks.  Those favorite locales were now the middle of a crime scene.  Instead we stopped miles further north, ate a quiet dinner, and sadly watched the local news.

This morning we attended both Mormon and Catholic services north of town.  At the beginning of Sacrament Meeting the Bishop made a statement about the violence of the day before – mourning that such hatred could infect the tranquil safe haven he had always found Charlottesville to be, and calling for healing through Christ.  A talk on the atonement then juxtaposed Charlottesville’s joys with yesterday’s tragedies, then reminded us that everyone is a child of God.  God doesn’t care about politics or money or power or influence – he cares about individuals, and calls us to love and serve our neighbors.  In Priesthood meeting, the teacher spoke about how yesterday he been downtown at a Charlottesville hotel which, somehow, had come to be hosting both a mostly-black group, and a contingent of the alt-right.  He had strived to ensure peace.  Turning to Matthew 5:43-48 he asked, what does it mean to love your enemies?

Since we were still avoiding Holy Comforter, Brad and I wended our way to Church of the Incarnation.  There the congregation prayed to heal Charlottesville of “racism and bigotry” and to seek the peace of Christ.  We sang a psalm, proclaiming “Kindness and truth, justice and peace; truth shall spring up as the water from the earth, justice shall rain from the heavens.”

The Priest’s homily, in a somewhat rambling way, sought to trace a history of Catholics standing up for social justice.  He connected yesterday’s events to Catholic efforts to protect Jews in Nazi Germany.  In a powerful moment, he decried all forms of nationalism.  “As soon as we think of ourselves as Americans, we are no longer Catholics, because catholic means universal.”

His words echoed to me those of President Hinckley’s 11 years ago:   “I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ.  Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.”

Then the Catholic Priest did something I have never before seen in a Catholic Church.  He called for an impromptu testimony meeting.   A few women stood up to talk about their attendance at yesterday’s events.  One began “I have been a protestor since my youth, as a result of a Jesuit education.”  She went on to describe attending yesterday’s interfaith sunrise service at First Baptist Church and then counter-marching downtown.  “Faith-filled people must stand against hatred.”

Comments

  1. Thanks for these lovely thoughts and the on-the-ground reporting. We lived in C’ville for a few years when my husband attended law school there too, and my heart is heavy this weekend.

  2. Beautiful reflections, Carolyn. And important. This is a time for people of faith to be united in love, and in complete rejection of the hateful ideologies that were on display yesterday in Charlottesville.

  3. Thankfully that Catholic priest was not preaching while JFK was running for President. And I proudly identify as an American. Patriotism and nationalism are not the same thing.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Carolyn.

  5. Really good thoughts Carolyn. Thank you.

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