A Matter of Spirit - Winter 2024 - Gun Violence

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A Call to Do Better • ‘Are You With Us?’ • ‘We Have to Try’ ‘They Shall Beat Their Swords Into Plowshares’ • The Potential to Save Lives ‘I’ve Never Heard of a Church Stopping Gun Violence’ A PUBLICATION OF THE INTERCOMMUNITY PEACE & JUSTICE CENTER • NO. 140 • WINTER 2024


From the Editor

When I was 11 years old two teenagers murdered 13 people in Columbine, Colorado. Neighboring schools installed metal detectors and mandated clear backpacks. Our school locked its doors and only let students enter and exit from one monitored doorway. Active shooter drills became commonplace.

When I was 20, studying abroad in a country my parents had tried to discourage me against living in because of the risk of terrorist violence, there was a mass shooting in my hometown. In the building across the street from my old violin teacher’s house, in a parking lot where I used to park every week during my lessons, 13 were killed and 4 wounded—the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in the state of New York.

When I was 25, reports of an armed assailant shut down the campus of my graduate school. My now-husband was dropping me off at work, and he and I sheltered in place under the desk of the drama school theatre where I sold tickets, flinching a little each time the doorknob jiggled or the phone rang.

When I was 34, a shooter killed seven people at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois, a wealthy Chicago suburb. I lived on the north side of Chicago at the time and had briefly considered going to the parade with my then 7-month-old before scrapping that plan in favor of visiting a much-closer butterfly garden.

Despite all these close calls, I am one of the lucky Americans: I don’t know anyone personally who has been affected by gun violence. And yet, I can’t go into a concert, movie theater, grocery store, or even church without thinking, “What would I do if there was a shooting? Could I hide? Is there anywhere to run?”

I’m not the only one who feels the constant weight of possible gun violence. When I was preparing for this issue, one of our editorial board members told me about his fear his kids would be involved in a school shooting. “It’s like a constant background anxiety that gets heavier as the day goes on,” he said. “They come home, and it gets a little lighter for a while, and then they go back to school the next day and the cycle continues.” Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that 75 percent of young adults between the ages of 15 to 21 report mass shootings as a significant source of stress, and 21 percent are either often or constantly worried about a shooting at their school.1

1 American Psychological Assocation, Stress in America: Generation Z (APA, 2018), https://www.apa.org/news/press/ releases/stress/2018/stress-gen-z.pdf.

This issue focuses on gun violence and its aftermath, specifically on the trauma young people around our country are experiencing due to gun violence and the threat of gun violence. Please be advised that some articles include discussions and depictions that may be distressing.

“This issue of A Matter of Spirit [allows] young people to speak in their own words about the impact gun violence . . . has had on their lives.”

This issue of A Matter of Spirit addresses that anxiety headon, allowing young people to speak in their own words about the impact gun violence and the threat of gun violence has had on their lives. The two high-school students interviewed in ‘Are You With Us?’, Emma Lemieux and Abby Gomes, created a short film about the experience of being in a school shooting and its aftermath: the film won this past year’s social justice video contest hosted by the Sisters of Mercy Justice Team. The third young adult, Eliayni Torres, is a sophomore at St. Catharine Academy in the Bronx, New York. In ‘I've Never Heard of a Church Stopping Gun Violence,’ she talks about losing a friend to gang-related gun violence and speaks to how that experience has affected her.

In addition, woven throughout the voices of young people are articles on how the church is looking to end the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. In “A Call to Do Better,” Angela HowardMcParland connects the work to end gun violence to Catholic social teaching. Two other writers reflect on specific programs and initiatives. Rev. James E. Curry, founding member of Swords to Plowshares NE, reflects on the experience of literally turning guns into farming implements. And Father Michael Murphy writes about his parish’s gun buyback program.

The goal of this issue is two-fold. First, we hope it makes real the anxieties and fears facing each and every young person— every person, for that matter—in this nation about the threat of gun violence. May these voices make clear that the threat of violence can be almost as harmful as violence itself. And second, working to end gun violence is a mandate of our faith and our pro-life commitment as Catholics. May the articles in this issue give each of us the courage to act and create a safer world for all.

Cover: © Terence Faircloth, Stop Gun Violence, photo detail of a mural by Kyle Holbrook and local youth, Miami, Florida
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Iwas a senior when 13 students were murdered and more than 20 others wounded at Columbine High School in April 1999. Often seen as the tragic start to our modern era of mass shootings and the gun violence prevention movement, the event at Columbine spurred swift reactions nationwide, including new metal detectors and safety protocols at my Kentucky high school on the other side of the country.

In the years following, as we know all too well, mass shootings have continued at staggering rates in schools, on college campuses, in places of worship, and at public events such as holiday parades and concerts. NBC News recently reported that gun ownership is at an all-time high in the United States–52 percent of voters say they or someone in their household owns a firearm.1

Even with churches on the list of now possibly deadly locations, the Catholic Church as an institution has largely allowed gun violence prevention to be a quiet subtopic among its other pro-life advocacy. As early as 1975, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops advocated for waiting periods on gun purchases and more effective legislation around the manufacturing, importing, and sales of handguns. In 2020, the USCCB released “A Mercy and Peacebuilding Approach to Gun Violence,” where they explicitly called for a renewal of an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and supported Extreme Risk Protection Orders. These documents exist quietly under the radar for most Catholics, and gun violence prevention hardly seems an active priority for the church.

And yet the many individuals, parishes, and religious communities engaged in work to end gun violence and save lives know and profess that Catholic social teaching—with its stubborn insistence on the dignity of life, the preferential option for the poor, and the common good—demand that we all do better to protect all three of these realities.

It would be hard to argue that gun violence in the United States is not a major threat to human life and dignity. In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children and teens, a sobering statistic that remains true today. As of early December, 2023 saw nearly 40,000 Americans killed by gun violence and 627 mass shootings (defined by events in which four or more people were shot or killed, according to the nonpartisan data collection organization Gun Violence Archive).

1 Alexandra Marquez, “Poll: Gun ownership reaches record high with American electorate,” NBC News, November 21, 2023, https:// www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/meetthepressblog/poll-gunownership-reaches-record-high-american-electorate-rcna126037

And the numbers continue to climb. Everytown USA reports that 120 Americans are killed by guns on a daily basis, while over 200 are shot and wounded. Six of every 10 gun deaths are self-inflicted, with access to a firearm tripling an individual’s risk of death by suicide. In a tradition that places defense of human life as a preeminent priority, these senseless and preventable deaths by firearms deserve the dignity of our lament, reflection, and concrete action.

In a recent webinar, activist Shane Claiborne decried our uniquely American obsession with firearms, noting that

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, MA participated in an Advocacy Day sponsored by the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence on Wed. Sept. 13, 2023 at the State House. Sisters Carlotta Gilarde, Maryann Enright, and Peggy Comfrey met with Rep. Kevin Honan of Brighton, a strong supporter of this issue. Photo © Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston


Christians owned more guns than any other group. “The cross and the gun give us two very different versions of power: one says I am willing to die, the other says I am willing to kill,” Claiborne said. “It is impossible to love our enemies and at the same time prepare to kill them.” Perhaps truly honoring human life and dignity looks more like connecting with our neighbors and less like stockpiling weapons for fear of them.

The common good, a Catholic litmus test for society, originates in the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) as the “sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” It is based on the notion that humans are deeply social beings and that our ability to participate in society promotes or hinders our full development and well-being, indeed, our God-given human dignity.

Concretely, the Catechism highlights three essential elements of the common good:

1) respect for the person, 2) the well-being and development of the social group itself, and 3) peace. As stated above, gun violence threatens individual life and dignity, but both the reality of shootings and the constant threat of violence also impede our ability as a society to strive for the common good and to fully achieve peace.

“...the reality of shootings and the constant threat of violence impede our ability as a society to strive for the common good and to fully achieve peace.”

This ideal of the common good assumes everyone deserves basic human rights and that each person is imbued with responsibilities toward the whole. On an individual level, while the Constitution, and the church for that matter, may defend responsible gun ownership as a protected right for self-defense or sport, that right cannot eclipse the rights to life and safety of other individuals and of the community. Hence, measures such as safe storage laws balance an individual’s right to own a firearm in ensuring that weapon is kept secure to prevent accidental deaths, particularly for children. Cardinal Blase Cupich, preaching after the Highland Park shooting in 2022, noted that “the right to bear arms does not eclipse the right to life, or the right of all Americans to go about their lives free of the fear that they might be shredded by bullets from weapons of war at any moment.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have rightly pointed out that our society is suffering a crisis that goes beyond firearms. In a letter to Congress following the Uvalde shooting, they write, “There is something deeply wrong with a culture where these acts of violence are increasingly common. There must be dialogue followed by concrete action to bring about a broader social renewal that addresses all aspects of the crisis” followed by a list of these ailments such as mental health, bullying, and access to firearms. In fact, the dialectical tradition in Catholic theology requires a “both/and” approach: we must certainly find ways to focus on access to deadly weapons and to attend to mental health care and undercurrents of violence in hate in our country.

If a peaceful common good is the goal, then the well-being of the most vulnerable members of society are the measuring stick for success. We have already noted that children and those with mental illness are particularly at risk, and it holds true for many of the most marginalized groups in this country as well. Women in the United States are 28 times more likely to be killed by a gun than in other comparable high-income countries, and nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot at by an intimate partner.2 Domestic violence situations quickly become more deadly when an abuser has access to firearms, which is why Extreme Risk Protection Orders, also known as red flag laws, can save lives.

These laws empower and allow law enforcement to seize weapons when there is a credible risk of violence to oneself or another, such as when an individual is subject to a restraining order. In November, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in U.S. vs. Rahimi, a case challenging the constitutionality of these life-saving laws with a decision expected in summer of 2024. Thankfully, many non-profit and faith-based organizations lent their voices to advocate for the protection of women and others vulnerable to domestic or intimate partner violence. In a culture inundated by white supremacy and systemic racism, Black, Latino/a, and Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by gun violence. The CDC reports that gun homicides are most prevalent in racially segregated neighborhoods with higher poverty rates and Black Americans are 12 times more likely to die from gun violence than white Americans. Members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly Black trans women, are also particularly at risk, with a record 59 deaths of transgender individuals in 2021. Again, a comprehensive and fully pro-life approach must include both common-sense gun regulations and attention to the undercurrent of hate often revealed to be a motive in mass shootings.

2 Everytown for Gun Safety, Guns and Violence Against Women (Everytown Research & Policy, 2023), https://everytownresearch. org/report/guns-and-violence-against-women-americas-uniquelylethal-intimate-partner-violence-problem/.

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Even in the face of this public health crisis, there is so much work happening to save lives and change the narrative of fear and violence across our country. Working as I do with Catholic sisters, I am deeply heartened by the passion and wisdom of so many of these women and their efforts, even as I know they are not the only ones doing this advocacy.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) is one such example. Sister Josie Chrosniak, HM, says that the ICCR is “engaging gun manufacturers or retail companies that sell guns in an attempt to encourage them, through dialogues and/or filing resolutions, to limit the guns that are available and to increase their use of background checks when selling a firearm.” Because congregations are stakeholders in these companies, they leverage their investing power to address gun violence when federal legislation feels futile.

Our newly formed Nuns Against Gun Violence coalition is another light. The three-pronged approach of prayer, education, and advocacy hopes to offer the thoughts and prayers echoed by so many leaders, following with concrete action lobbying legislators at the state and federal level, supporting survivors, and promoting educational opportunities. “When you look at the facts about gun violence, it becomes clear that by standing in solidarity with the victims of violence and advocating for safe gun laws, we are standing for the dignity of life and the common good of all,” says Sister Annette McDermott, SSJ “Without question, non-violence is the moral outcry all around us–we need to be a healing presence. It is who we are called to be.”

Angela Howard-McParland is a justice resource manager for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, advocating for social justice issues, including gun violence. She is also a founder of the Nuns Against Gun Violence coalition and lives in Rhode Island.


Angela Howard-McParland was featured in a recent episode of Justice Rising, IPJC’s podcast See page 15.


Four congregations of Catholic sisters, all shareholders in Smith & Wesson, have filed a lawsuit against the directors and officers of Smith & Wesson Brands Inc in Clark County, Nevada. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants breached their duties to Smith & Wesson by knowingly violating laws through its sale and marketing of AR-15 assault weapons, thereby exposing the company to liability. In a statement, they argue that the “company is intent on marketing and selling AR-15 rifles in whatever manner results in the most sales—even if the marketing is illegal and attracts a dangerous category of buyers, facilitates an unrelenting and growing stream of killings, and causes the company to face an ever-increasing and substantial likelihood of liability that threatens its long-term existence.”

The four congregations—including the Adrian Dominican Sisters,* Sisters of Bon Secours USA, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia,* and Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary, U.S.- Ontario Province*— also emphasize their faith-driven concern for life. They urge Smith & Wesson to return to its original ethos of responsible gun ownership and pray for an end to the gun violence that is devastating our communities. You can read the entire lawsuit at nfllp.com/cases .

* Sponsoring congregations of IPJC

A collage of various congregations participating in Wear Orange for Gun Violence last June. Photo collage © Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

‘Are You With Us?’

A conversation with Emma Lemieux and Abby Gomes

Each year, the Sisters of Mercy Justice Team hosts a social justice video contest, soliciting entries around one of their “Critical Concerns”—immigration, racism, women, nonviolence, and Earth. In 2023, one of the areas of focus was gun violence.

The winning entry was titled “Are you with us?” and chronicles the experience of being in a school shooting and its aftermath. Angela Howard-McParland, the justice resource manager for the Sisters of Mercy, sat down with two of the students who made the film, Emma Lemieux and Abigail Gomes, both seniors at Mercy High School in Middletown, Connecticut, and asked them about the inspiration for the video and how the threat of gun violence affects their daily lives.

Their story reflects widespread trends: a 2018 Pew Research study found that a majority of teenagers worry about a school shooting at their school,1 while another 2021 study found that this worry can lead increases in both anxiety and panic.

You can view Emma and Abigail’s film, along with the other winning entries, at https://sistersofmercy. org/mercy-for-justice/nonviolence/mercy-studentsconfront-gun-violence/.

1 Nikki Graf, “A majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concern,” Pew Research Center, April 18, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/shortreads/2018/04/18/a-majority-of-u-s-teens-fear-a-shooting-couldhappen-at-their-school-and-most-parents-share-their-concern/.

Can you share your inspiration for your video?

EMMA: We’re the “lockdown generation”: we’ve become so desensitized to lockdowns and, unfortunately, school shootings and just gun violence in general, because we see it everywhere in the media, and we practice all the time. You kind of become numb.

So this project hit an area that I didn’t know was a sore spot. The more I started writing the scripts and directing it, and seeing Abby act in it, the more I was like, don’t get choked up. It kind of hit me when I didn’t expect it to.

ABBY: I love acting and I love theater and I thought it would be a great opportunity to advocate for change. But, I remember at some point during the filming, like having that realization that even though I was just playing a role, there’s so many people that have been in that horrifying position that my character was, and just how much of an issue this is in our common, everyday life.

Has gun violence or the possibility of gun violence changed anything about your daily lives?

ABBY: Today is the 11 year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Tragedy, which, as Connecticut residents, it’s something we hear about a lot. It’s something we also hear people’s stories about. I definitely remember close to that date when I was a lot younger,

Screenshot of the video, Are You With Us?
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See the video here!
“We’ve become so desensitized to lockdowns . . . because we see it everywhere in the media, and we practice all the time. You kind of become numb.”

when news about it started coming out. My parents were definitely rattled at the idea that it happened and that it could have been any kid that this is happening to—it could have been their kids, and they were just really scared about that. I also remember my sophomore year. A woman came to our school to talk to us named Scarlett Lewis, and she talked to us about the tragic passing of her son Jesse, and it was just a really powerful and impactful story that we all took a message from.

EMMA: I remember that the day of the shooting me and my twin brother were one of the last students to get picked up at my school. We were nowhere near Sandy Hook. But I just remember how confusing it was.

And, for example, our cafeteria windows are bulletproof. And Mercy is an extremely safe place. They take security very seriously. But I remember how, unfortunately, that was the sole reason for wanting to come to Mercy, the safety of the school. Obviously, I love it here. But it was big was a big factor. The sad part is, it was jaw dropping that the windows were bulletproof. And the thing is, the windows shouldn’t need to be bulletproof.

Do you do anything differently in school or in public because of the possibility of gun violence?

EMMA: Well, my mom told me when she was growing up—my mom is from Middletown, and I’m from Middletown—she used to tell me how everyone could just walk around and people would come to the school, and it wouldn’t be a huge deal.

Once when I was in theology class, we went and secured the perimeter and a parent came to the school not knowing we were in a secured perimeter and a couple of girls who were walking by in the hallway start freaking out because they’re like, “there’s a random person here!” and it was just the parent.

ABBY: We have very strict rules that you can’t let anyone in during school, even before or after the school day. There are kids that have to come after school for clubs and activities. But we’re not supposed to let them in. There are very strict roles at school that control that kind of stuff because of that danger that shouldn’t even be present.

What do you think church leaders or politicians should be doing differently?

ABBY: More generally, the government should be effectively

implementing gun regulation and violence prevention projects. And something more specific we have talked about is that teachers and leaders in general should be more cautiously monitoring mental health in schools, and even just in people in general, because that seems to be such a large cause of this issue. I think we should, as Emma worded it, destigmatize talking about our feelings, and being able to express negative' feelings we have. And that is okay to not be okay. And it’s better to talk about it than keep it inside, because that’s how you don’t let it build up. That’s how these kind of events can happen when you’re just so overwhelmed.

EMMA: I think the reason why gun violence is such a hard issue is because it touches upon a bunch of other issues like mental health and poverty in a way, because, you know, a lot of underprivileged communities bear the brunt of gun violence. And I think because it touches upon such deep, different issues, we need a lot more conversations and a lot more support. And just new ideas, new approaches. And I think what a lot of authority figures are doing now is great. It’s getting the ball rolling. And I think if we continue that momentum and that awareness, we’ll eventually find a solution, just by finding different ways to look at the problem.

Is there anything else you want to people reading this to know about how gun violence has affected you and your peers?

EMMA: I noticed after we made the video that I had a bunch of people come up to me and share their experiences. A couple of my classmates shared their experiences, and they have much more direct experiences with gun violence and they shared that and that was really eye opening to me.

ABBY: Seeing the project as a whole was really impactful. I had acted in it and that definitely spoke to me, just being a part of it. But I didn’t see it as a whole until the rest of the theology classes did. And so, seeing it come together as a whole, was like, “Wow! This is so moving and you are so talented, Emma.”

Our whole theme of Theology 3 is social justice issues. So we were always focusing on that and at the end of the year we all had to make a presentation and gun violence was one of those issues. So we all learned about a lot of different things.


‘We Have to Try’

Sister Susan Walsh, RSM, is the acting president at Mercy Career & Technical High School in Philadelphia. She has served in Philadelphia for most of her ministry with the Sisters of Mercy and has borne witness to the impact of gun violence on students and the neighborhoods over the years. A student from Mercy Career & Tech was killed by gun violence just last year, and his loss continues to impact peers and the school community.

Here she speaks in her own words about how gun violence has impacted her students and the city where she ministers.

Ihave three students who passed away [due to gun violence]; one, Jeremy, on Christmas Eve two years ago. His classmates are still here. Another student was killed in crossfire. And another died during his senior year. They were here today, gone tomorrow.

There is a whole lot of violence in Philadelphia. A whole lot of gunshots heard by students. Gun violence often impacts our students and their families. Some of our students have lost parents.

It’s a huge situation. We’re a vocational school, and we draw students from all over the city. I watch the news and hear a 16-year-old [was shot], and I wonder if it’s one of my students or somebody connected to them.

Students and families are scared of public transportation. So they end up being isolated at home, unable to be children and do what they would like to do.

It’s hard for me to hear that students feel like they won’t live past 20. That’s real, and they have examples of that [in their own lives].

We know as a society what’s wrong. I don’t know if it’s too overwhelming to fix, but you have to try. You have to be proactive. The students and parents want to have a good education, and they want their school to be safe.

We’re one of the only schools that have social workers and guidance counselors. We go into homes and help families pay rents and things. The problem is bigger than the kids in the seats. There needs to be more jobs and

better jobs, or [selling drugs] is going to be a lure. You’re not going to make the same money at McDonald’s. There’s this desperate pull that preys on younger, innocent kids. It feels overwhelming to me, but it’s also satisfying to do the work we do here [at the high school].

It’s hard for people to want to be teachers. People aren’t applying [for open positions], particularly in Philadelphia. Teachers don’t want to be killed in a classroom. And don’t tell me that teachers are going to be armed: I will never ask anybody to do that. The possibility of crossfire is not worth it. And that’s what it looks like when both sides are armed.

A conversation with Sister Susan Walsh, RSM
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Illustration for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B. By Father Maximino Cerezo Barredo, CMF

‘They Shall Beat Their Swords Into Plowshares’

Gun violence knows no limits of race, socioeconomic status, gender, age, or geography. Gun violence forever changes the families, neighborhoods, and communities in which it occurs. We, as a society, are caught in the grips of violence and pain, but way too often we also get caught in despair or in political debate that is exhausting and gets us nowhere.

Swords to Plowshares Northeast is a non-profit organization based in New Haven, Connecticut that invites people to confront the potential harm that can be caused by a gun in their homes. We encourage people to turn in their guns in givebacks and buybacks and then, in partnership with towns and cities, we transform destroyed guns into gardening tools, jewelry, and musical instruments using traditional blacksmithing and woodturning skills.

We are part of Guns to Gardens, a growing nationwide network of community organizations and blacksmiths who seek to shift the conversation of gun violence prevention away from confrontation by focusing on voluntary and innovative alternatives.

Swords to Plowshares Northeast takes our name and our hope from the prophecy of Isaiah, written over 2,500 years ago. Isaiah lived in a time of great violence, uncertainty, and fear. It is in that context that he also heard the promise of God: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore” (2:4).

Isaiah preached that foundational message of hope to the weary people around him. It seemed like an impossible dream, but it took hold among the people. That’s what the Word of God does. Our God is a God of healing, hope, and transformation, who leads us through despair and even death into new life. Our God seeks reconciliation and wholeness for all people. God’s love embraces us for the long term.

That is the core of our faith, which is proclaimed by the prophets. Our faith traditions ask us to trust in the promises of God and move forward in life, risking new ways to relate to one another with renewed hope.

The way of Jesus and the promises of God articulated by Isaiah give us a template for how to make our choices in our uncertain and fractured world. I want to give us a new translation of Isaiah for our time: “We shall beat our guns into garden tools; neighbor shall not raise up gun against neighbor; neither shall WE learn violence anymore.”

We are not there yet, but God’s promise still holds true. We are now invited to bring this message of hope to our world by what we say and do. We are called to be agents of transformation in our world.

Swords to Plowshares Northeast and our sister organizations invite people to face the reality of gun violence and to rethink the place of guns in their lives so that we may create safer homes and more nurturing neighborhoods. We invite people to join us at the forge to experience beating guns into tools of nurture and life.

Beating guns has become especially important to many people who have experienced gun violence in their own lives. As they heat the gun metal in the forge and hammer it into garden tools, they can experience a new sense of power over a weapon that has caused them great trauma and harm. Like the earliest followers of Jesus actively participating in the unfolding of God’s new vision, we who form tools from guns are actively participating in the unfolding of the prophecy of Isaiah. “They shall beat” becomes “we are beating” our swords into plowshares.

Swords to Plowshares Northeast presents an alternative to endless debate and invites people to join the work of forging new symbols of peace and nurture. In the final phase of this process, we give our new tools away to community gardens, faith communities, schools, universities, and violence interruption programs throughout the Northeast.

The Right Reverend James E. Curry is a founding member of Swords to Plowshares Northeast and a retired bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. He is also a founding member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence and a contributor to the anthology Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace. Read more about the work of Swords to Plowshares Northeast at s2pnortheast.org

Plowshares Northeast
Swords to
photos used with permission from the author.

The Potential to Save Lives

Aline of vehicles snaked around the Baltimore shopping center hours before the scheduled start of a gun buyback and community resource and peacebuilding fair. Among those waiting to hand over an old firearm for $200 or $300 were two men.

One of the two men wore an NRA hat in display of his support for the National Rifle Association; he packed his trunk with some old weapons he wanted to trade for cash, likely to upgrade his arsenal. The second man brought a handgun he wanted out of his house in the hours immediately after his stepson was shot and killed.

Every hundred people who showed up on that August day brought a hundred reasons to get rid of their guns. What we know for sure is that any one of those firearms, since melted down, could have been used to commit cold-blooded murder. Any one of them could have ended someone’s moment of desperation with suicide or turned an act of rage into a deadly act of domestic violence.

“We channeled peace to our neighbors, and we answered the pope’s call to get firearms out of circulation.”

Naysayers write off gun buybacks, pointing to a lack of empirical evidence that they directly correlate to improvements in safety. That’s a simplistic assessment, and one that misses the point. How much is one life worth?

In Baltimore, the gun buyback created a coalition for peace made up of dozens of partners, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore and two city-based Presbyterian churches, the business community, and both public and private organizations. Using nearly $60,000 raised almost entirely from Catholic parishes and religious orders, we got 362 guns off the streets on a single summer morning that represented more than 20 percent of all firearms recovered by the Baltimore police that year to date.

Gun buybacks are most certainly not a singular solution to violence in America. The solution to violence in our country

is found in a million actions that start with the fundamental principle of our Catholic social teaching: every human life is sacred, and we must act accordingly.

Our event communicated the inherent value of the potential that our gun buyback saved a life. We channeled peace to our neighbors, and we answered the pope’s call to get firearms out of circulation.

We also brought hope to an underserved community alongside outreach by organizations that provide expungements, gun safety locks, violence interruption, workforce development, and youth advocacy, among other services.

The gun buyback was an extension of the archdiocese’s grief ministry, which serves the families of homicide victims through a partnership with the Baltimore Police Department and Roberta’s House, a non-profit family grief support center. Through the generosity of Catholics across the area and a network of volunteers, the ministry has provided fresh groceries to hundreds of families, offset funeral costs, and given support to survivors living in witness protection. Following the mass shooting in Baltimore’s Brooklyn Homes community, the ministry used the collection of one archdiocesan parish to pay the back rent for parents sitting vigil at their injured child’s hospital bedside, sent a survivor to substance abuse treatment, and paid for a young graduate’s senior portraits after her recovery.

The work continues. Shortly after Christmas 2023, our coalition walked by candlelight, reciting the names of those lost to gun violence in 2023 and praying fervently for God’s peace.

At a minimum, our Catholic faith tells us that one life is worth every effort.

The Rev. Michael Murphy is pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish in Southwest Baltimore, which serves the community in which he was born and raised.

Photo credit tc
Images Page 10 MÖTUG collective -
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OBEY GiantGuns and Roses © Wally GobetzOBEY, Page 11 Guns Down © Duncan Cumming

‘I’ve Never Heard of a Church Stopping Gun Violence’

A conversation with Eliayni Torres and Helen Rieke

Eliayni Torres is a sophomore at St. Catharine Academy in the Bronx, NY. She lost a friend to gang-related gun violence last year and largely speaks to that experience in the interview below. She spoke with us alongside her guidance counselor, Helen Rieke.

How have you been directly affected by gun violence?

ELIAYNI: I didn’t know how to feel at one point. It was just like too much going on at the moment. It was so rare and I remember, I was in ELA class and everybody is posting it around and I just thought, “Oh that’s not true. I’m not going to believe it.” Thursday I come into school and I find out that it’s true. So automatically, I broke down. My eyes were really baggy. I was very pale. And I remember Ms. Rieke coming into my first period class asking for me and I just remember breaking down.

And I was glad she was there because I could express my feelings with her and I can continue expressing them with her. And it was just too much at the moment. I didn’t really know how to react to it.

It was very weird. I never broke down in class. That was not my type of movement. So me actually breaking down in class made me feel safe. I could speak to somebody. She might not relate to it but I could speak to somebody instead of holding it in and keeping so much anger to myself.

Can you share what happened and tell us about him?

ELIAYNI: So his name was Prince Shabbaz and he was 14 years old.

His brother was gang affiliated. I would say that. And his little brother really wouldn’t be in the mix of that. His brother would always play video games. He was a loving person. I could personally say that my friend was never a bad person, he never wanted to harm nobody.

He was coming out of a building with his older brother and another gang person tried to shoot at his older brother and ended up shooting Prince. So it happened in a moment and all of his other friends saw him pass away. So it was tragic because his friends were seeing him bleed out. That was very scary.

So it affected me a lot because this was a person that I would talk to daily. And not only did it affect me a lot, it affected his family a lot because he was the youngest. Imagine losing your youngest child. It was just so rare so his family did not understand what was going on. Everybody was lost at the time.

HELEN: And this was in your neighborhood?

ELIAYNI: Yeah, up the block from my house. You could literally hear the gunshots as well. It was four or five gun shots and I heard it from afar. It was crazy. I didn’t think it was going to be one of my friends.

Everybody was posting it on the Citizen app so everybody was reporting it. And the app was telling us that a 14-year-old had passed away but nobody had seen his face.

It was November 30 of 2022. When it hit a year, I was very sad, but I was also like, “okay I have to move on in life as well.” I can’t always keep holding on to something and I just have to better myself from that. He made me realize who to trust and who not to trust and when to go outside and when not to go outside and just to always be safe.


How would you say it has affected you over the last year?

ELIAYNI: I feel like it affected me at one point. But I had to, not give it up, but move on and be a better person and do things that will make him happy and move on in life. And I know his family is still hurting but I know they are probably doing the same thing that I’m doing: moving on and finding better things in life to do than just sitting there crying. Because sitting there crying isn’t going to bring them back. It still affects me on certain days, but not like when it happened.

Has it changed how you act on a daily basis? Is there anything you do differently?

ELIAYNI: To be honest, it affects me but then it doesn’t because we live in a messed-up world where gun violence is everywhere. You don’t even have to be in a gang or anything. They’ll just shoot you automatically. They shoot up schools for no reason. And it’s just unacceptable. Put the gun down. There’s no point of using it if you’re not in a bad predicament or don’t need it for self-defense.

My mom always told me how to be street smart. You got to move smart in the street. If you see somebody that’s moving, you got to learn how to be calm and not interact with those people.

You have to have a good mouth when you’re in the street. You have to hold your tongue. So that’s why it really hasn’t affected me when I’m in school or outside of school because I know I’m not going to go ahead and pick up a gun and harm somebody.

What would you want people to know about how this has affected the lives of young people?

ELIAYNI: I feel things [lockdown drills] are helpful because some people don’t take it seriously. I take it seriously, because my life depends on it. The bullet doesn’t have to go through me. Anything can happen. People broke into our school and imagine if we were inside. They broke glass and everything. So it’s just like having a lockdown. You always have to be prepared for that.

I feel like we should do that more. We do it, but just not on a daily basis. I feel like we should learn how to hide because it is a scary world. It’s an all girl school, there’s mainly men around this area. I’m not saying all men are dangerous, but there’s some men that are dangerous, and some women, too. We have to keep each other safe and it depends on the teachers lives as well. We’re in school. They’re basically our guardians.

I just feel like lockdowns are really important, even if you’re working in a store. There are a lot of gun shootings at the mall as well.

HELEN: You feel like you’re more aware. She’s more smart to things that are going on.

ELIAYNI: You just have to be really street smart.

Could you speak to how you support one another with the threat of violence?

HELEN: Whatever my students need, they know when they come to my office as their counselor, this is their safe space. So there they can voice whatever they need, and when they’re anxious, especially it is very anxiety provoking, these world events.

Because of social media, because of all stuff that’s going on this world, teenagers know more than we do. They know more than we do. And all of that knowledge has caused a lot more stress. And we see it. We see it daily.

So, when the girls can come in and just have a conversation just to feel like someone’s listening to them. It is really important for me, my role here, and this is what I try to do to give them a safe space to talk. We can’t solve the world problems. We try as much as we can but we do live in a scary world.

And these girls have to live in an area where they have to be street smart. They have to know their surroundings. They can’t look down when they’re in the bus. It’s harder, I think, than when we went to school.

ELIAYNI: Our generation is the most dangerous generation out there. Our time is terrible. Now, everybody is dying. Say I’m gang-affiliated and she’s from a different side. I’m going to approach her and I’m going to want to kill her. That’s how it is now. I always say this: my people die, yes. But me arguing with you isn’t going to get them back. You can talk bad about them all you want, but at the end of the day I’m not going to argue because I can’t do anything about it. They’re gone.

I hear you saying that you are really aware how that cycle can keep going and that you’re refusing to participate.

ELIAYNI: I know people who are gang-affiliated and I love them from afar. They won’t drag me into it. I don’t really get the point of being in a gang.

I was raised like that. My mom always told me not to react. You react when you have to react. But when it comes to people saying, “This is why your people are dead.” I can’t do anything about it. I really can’t. I could probably get mad and argue a little bit but there is really no point. There’s no point of nobody arguing. And it’s just like I said, you’re not going to get them back.

Where do you find hope? How do you keep going and find the good?

ELIAYNI: I believe in God and I read the Bible. If I feel low, that’s where I go. I’ll read the Bible. If I feel like I’m falling apart, I’ll read the Bible. Sometimes I bring my Bible to school when I feel anxious or low. And I’ll go to [Ms. Rieke]. I have hope in her and I have hope in my Bible.

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Photo © Maria Lysenko, Unsplash

HELEN: And I have hope in these kids. They come and they grow and for [Eliayni] especially, her goal when it first happened was: what do you want to do to make his memory? What do you think he would want you to do? And for her, it was to keep going, graduate high school, make a better life for herself. Get out of the situation and have a better life.

I think that is that hope. Our girls are moving and they are going to become something in this life and hopefully make changes. We never know where they’re going to end up but it’s always that hope. She’s moving forward. She’s working towards a goal. And that is always hopeful for me. They’re going somewhere, these girls.

What would you like to see faith leaders and the Church doing differently?

ELIAYNI: I’ve never heard about a church stopping gun violence. But they should work on it more because there are kids losing their lives, not just gang-affiliated. There are kids losing their lives. It doesn’t matter what age you are. There are people falling apart because their kid is gone. So the church should work on it.

Everything is in God’s hands, I always say, and everything comes out in the light, but I think they should work on it because everything works in God’s hands. They could speak about it and protest. I would be glad to protest gun violence. I told my sister about it and she did protest. Me coming to you and telling you my story about gun violence is a good thing. I want people to hear this and I want churches to have a better impact too.

HELEN: I agree. I think more should be said. More should be done.

ELIAYNI: Actions speak louder than words. That’s what I personally think. Action. Speaking isn’t doing enough. I already have to move smart, so churches should really do it. Any community should really do it, to be honest.

I know I’m not the only one that has experienced gun violence. So that’s why I said protesting is also good. I know for a fact that other girls in this school have experienced gun violence, but they just don’t talk about it. Even if they haven’t experienced gun violence, I feel like they should stand up because they don’t know if their friends are going through it, or their family members are really going through it. So you’ve got to use your voice when it comes to this type of stuff.


“Humor is the finest instrument we have to bring people together . . .”

Many of us have seen the sculpture: a cocked 45-caliber revolver with the barrel tied in a knot. Today, there are many replicas of this sculpture, titled Non-Violence, all over the world. But the one depicted here is one of three originals, now located outside the United Nations building in New York City.

Artist Carl Frederk Reutersward made the sculpture in 1980 after the death of John Lennon. Intended to honor Lennon’s vision of a peaceful world, it was originally located at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, across the street from where Lennon lived. In 1988, however, the government of Luxembourg bought the statue and donated it to the UN.

In a statement made during its move, Reutersward explained the significance of the sculpture, saying, “Humor is the finest instrument we have to bring people together. While making my peace symbol, I thought of the importance of introducing a touch of humor, just to make my ‘weapon’ symbolically ridiculous and completely out of order.”


A Novena Against Gun Violence

Loving God, You created for us a world of beauty, order and endless possibilities. But today ours is a world often in chaos: war, famine, drought, so many “isms,” lack of respect for life and for one another.

In this country we face these issues day after day. One of these is uppermost in our minds these days—the horror of gun violence which continues to ravage our nation, our society, our people, even the youngest of our children.

Spirit God, we give you all names: Holy, Sanctifier, Paraclete, Advocate. Yet you are so much more: Challenger, Nudger, whirling Wind and engulfing Fire, Mover, Enabler, Lover, Breath of Life.

Be that for us, we pray. Instill in us your gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence and awe. Pentecost us. Enable us to be as daring as the newly inspired apostles—to be bold in our defense of the right of all persons to feel safe wherever we are, unafraid of being forever silenced by those who are armed with weapons and anger and sometimes even hatred.

Give us the courage to speak the Word. Give us the audacity to take the actions needed to end this needless violence.

In the name of our Creator God, in the name of the Word of Life, and in the name of the Fire of Love. Amen.

Dios amoroso, tú creaste para nosotros un mundo de belleza, orden e infinitas posibilidades. Pero hoy el nuestro es un mundo a menudo sumido en el caos: guerra, hambre, sequía, tantos «ismos», falta de respeto por la vida y por los demás. En este país nos enfrentamos a estos problemas día tras día. Uno de ellos es el que más nos preocupa estos días: el horror de la violencia armada que sigue asolando nuestra nación, nuestra sociedad, nuestro pueblo, incluso a los más jóvenes de nuestros niños.

Espíritu Dios, te damos todos los nombres: Santo, Santificador, Paráclito, Abogado. Sin embargo, eres mucho más: Desafiador, Empujador, Viento arremolinado y Fuego envolvente, Movedor, Facilitador, Amante, Aliento de vida.

Que así sea para nosotros, te lo pedimos. Infunde en nosotros tus dones de sabiduría, inteligencia, consejo, fortaleza, ciencia, piedad y temor de Dios. Haznos Pentecostés. Permítenos ser tan atrevidos como los apóstoles recién inspirados: ser audaces en nuestra defensa del derecho de todas las personas a sentirse seguras dondequiera que estemos, sin miedo a ser silenciados para siempre por los que están armados con armas e ira y a veces incluso con odio.

Danos el valor de decir la Palabra. Danos la audacia de emprender las acciones necesarias para poner fin a esta violencia innecesaria.

En nombre de nuestro Dios Creador, en nombre de la Palabra de Vida y en nombre del Fuego del Amor. Amén.

Two most recent two episodes of the Justice Rising podcast feature guests who work toward preventing gun violence:


Angela Howard-McParland Justice Resource Manager Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

In this episode, titled “Nothing Less of a Culture Change,” host Cecilia Flores talks with Angela about her work with Nuns Against Gun Violence and how religious sisters bring a unique perspective to justice issues, since their work in communities fuels their passion for advocacy and structural change.


Alex Castro (She/They) Field Organizer Alliance for Gun Responsibility

In this episode, Cecilia talks with Alex Castro about the Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s advocacy efforts for policy reform to end gun violence. To listen to the episodes, visit ipjc.org/justice-rising-podcast or tune in to Justice Rising podcast on whatever platform you listen to podcasts.

Reprinted with permission from Nuns Against Gun Violence
WINTER 2024 • NO. 140 14
Photo of Angela Howard-McParland used with permission; Other images IPJC unless noted

Northwest Ignatian Advocacy Summit

February 22-24, 2024 at Seattle University

Please register by February 9. For more info visit bit/ly/NWAdvocacySummit

Musical on the Life of Sr. Thea Bowman by ValLimar Jansen

March 1 and 2, 2024

St. Patrick’s Church

Under the supervison of St. Joseph Parish

Creation Care Network Summit 2024 Let Justice and Peace Flow

Saturday, March 16, 2024, Seattle University

Lenten Group resource available to order from IPJC Open Wide Our Hearts!—The Enduring Call to Love

A 2020 study guide designed to enable faith communities to understand individual and systemic racism. Order here: ipjc.org/open-wide-our-heartsthe-enduring-call-to-love/



Judy Byron, OP, Joseph & Stacy Cates-Carney

Hugh Dalton, Kathy Fathrop

Gloria Martini, Mary Pat Murphy, OP

Sister Judy Ryan, SNJM friends

Sisters of Providence-Seattle Local Community Tacoma Dominican Associates, Marilyn Yockey IPJC staff & leadership of past, present and future IN MEMORY OF Rev. John J. Dorgan, Patricia M. Maney

“The Little Light of Mine” © Micky McGrath, OSFS

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Seattle, WA 98115-6724


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Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Jesuits West

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Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province

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Benedictine Sisters of Cottonwood, Idaho

Benedictine Sisters of Lacey

Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel

Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose

Dominican Sisters of Racine

Dominican Sisters of San Rafael Sinsinawa Dominicans

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Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet

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Don Clemmer

Kelly Hickman

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Editor: Emily Sanna

Copy Editor: Elizabeth Bayardi, Carl Elsik

Design: Sheila Edwards

A Matter of Spirit is a quarterly publication of the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Federal Tax ID# 94-3083964. All donations are tax-deductible within the guidelines of U.S. law. To make a matching corporate gift, a gift of stocks, bonds, or other securities please call (206) 223-1138. Printed on FSC® certified paper made from 30% post-consumer waste.

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Reflection Process

This processional cross was given to Berkeley Divinity School by the Class of 2023. It is made from reworked gun barrels and wrapped in lilies, a symbol of resurrection. The cross was made by Peter Catchpole, owner of Iron Ore Arts in New Milford, Connecticut.

For more information on the cross, visit berkeleydivinity.yale. edu/news/swords-plowshares

n What feelings or emotions does the image above evoke? How do you feel about a processional cross made from a tool of violence and destruction?

n What does the image of “swords into plowshares” suggest for you? How might the image guide conversations or actions to address the root causes of gun violence?

n In an article on Berkeley’s website, senior Paul Keene explains that the symbolism of the cross is “especially significant for both New Haven, ‘a city founded in gun manufacturing and wracked by gun violence,’ and Berkeley, a school, whose early funding included money from the Colt family.” Do you feel like you and your communities have been complicit in the epidemic of gun violence in this country? What would it mean to make reparations?

n Isaiah’s image of swords into plowshares has occurred multiple times throughout this issue. How does your understanding of scripture inspire a deeper commitment to dismantle systems that perpetuate gun violence?

NON-PROFIT ORG. US Postage PAID Seattle, WA Permit No. 4711
Photo reprinted with permission. Cover: © Terence Faircloth, Stop Gun Violence, photo detail of a mural by Kyle Holbrook and local youth, Miami, Florida
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