Wheeling, W.Va. (WTRF) – Bishop Mark Brennan of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has released a statement on Saturday’s shooting in Buffalo, New York:
The Catholics of West Virginia join other Americans in condemning the murder of ten men and women and the wounding of others in a predominantly African American community yesterday (May 14) in Buffalo, NY. In the short term we offer the families of the victims our profound sympathy and prayers. For the long term we offer them the promise that Jesus made: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you [Matthew 11: 28]. We can hope that those unjustly burdened by a violent death will receive refreshment in eternity from the one who said: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places and I am going to prepare a place for you [John 14: 2].
All violent taking of life violates God’s commandment: You shall not kill [Exodus 20: 13] but it is especially galling to learn from news reports that the lives of these victims were taken precisely because they were African Americans. Of all inhabitants in this country, Black Americans have suffered the most from centuries of slavery, legal and de facto segregation and socio-economic patterns that have burdened their lives up to and including the present.
The tragedy in Buffalo is hardly the first such violence against African Americans. From the crossing of the ocean in slave ships, in which many Africans died, to their violent treatment by slave masters to the thousands of lynchings of Blacks in the South to more recent killings of unarmed African Americans by police and civilians, even in their churches, this racism has claimed an inordinate number of Black lives simply because they were Black. When and how will it stop?
New laws might help but what is most needed is a true change of mind and heart that leads us to recognize and affirm the value of every human life, no matter how different the person is from me. It is the kind of change that authentic religion promotes. God has made us all in His image and likeness. He has commanded us to love one another, to bear one another’s burdens. Unless we embrace this understanding more fully in America, we can expect more such tragedies – and against Jews, Moslems and immigrants as well as against African Americans. Sadly, Americans are turning away from religion. Will our people turn back to the One who tells us to treat one another with justice and mercy?
We must also face the fact that the widespread availability of guns is a crucial factor in racial violence. It is much harder to escape from a bullet than it is from a knife. I recognize that most gun owners have them for the protection of their families and themselves or for hunting. I challenge you who own guns for such purposes to propose ways in which the availability of guns could be significantly restricted. I have lived in countries where guns are much less available than in the United States and where, correspondingly, gun deaths are much less common. We have to do better than we are doing. Gun owners: step up to the challenge!
Our addiction to public media and especially social media also contributes to the kind of violence we have seen in Buffalo and elsewhere in our country. I believe in free speech, especially because I value the right to speak about religion openly, which some powerful groups in our society want to restrict.
But some speech is false and unjust. St. Paul urges us to speak the truth in love [Ephesians 4: 15]. Parents need to monitor not only their children’s use of speech but their own. Politicians and the media ought to be prudent in their speech. Social media is much harder to control by external means – unless you live in China, where the Communist Party tries to control all conversation – but we can encourage family members and friends to speak respectfully about others and challenge them when they do not. Inflaming passions against other groups, as we have seen in the abortion controversies in this country, in Rwanda in the 1990’s and in anti-Ukraine Russian propaganda today, can lead to violence and death.
Bishop Mark Brennan, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
I urge all reading this message to join me in prayer for the victims of the tragic killings in Buffalo and for the consolation of their families and friends. Lest we become inured to the real pain such events cause their loved ones and settle for complacency in the face of evil, we must learn to love our neighbor, regardless of race or other distinguishing factors. We must turn to God, who sees us all as His beloved children. And we must not shrink from making hard decisions about how to stem gun violence and hateful speech in the means of social communication in our country. The land of the free should also be the home of life, liberty and happiness for all.
Ten people were killed and three were injured in what is being investigated by authorities as a hate crime.