Powerful Prayers for Peace in South West Philadelphia: Heeding God's Call organizes a rally and walk to raise awareness on International Day of Prayer for Peace 2012

Lit by glowing sidewalk luminaries, several hundred West and Southwest residents and anti-gun violence protesters from other parts of the city came together in a moving public witness and call for action in Cedar Park Friday evening, September 21.  The 250 luminaries mourned the tragic deaths of a like number of Philadelphians murdered so far this year.

The event was the latest in a continuing series of public witness gatherings organized by the faith-based anti-gun violence group Heading God’s Call and its newly formed local affiliate, the West and Southwest Coalition for Peace.  The backdrop for the event was the impressive façade of the Hickman Temple A.M.E. Church at 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue, whose pastor, the Rev. Stanley G. Smith, opened the vigil with prayer.

Rev. Smith fervently asked God to comfort and knit back together the many families touched by violence.  He also asked divine empowerment for churches to renew their moral leadership in the community.

For many, the West/Southwest witness actually began at 6:30 p.m. at two nearby sites already infamous for wanton bloodshed: the corner of 52nd Street and Warrington Avenue and the 1100 block of South Ruby Street. 

At both those locations, mourners assembled briefly to name and pray for the young men and women shot down there, and then, small electric candles in hand, they walked in measured procession to the Cedar Park site chanting “No Peace, No Justice,” punctuated at every corner with loud, plaintive shouts, “Stop Killing Our Children.”

As the groups of walkers arrived at Cedar Park, each was given a decorated fan in the shape of a dove of peace, many of which were created by youngsters in the after school program at the Kingsessing Branch Library under the guidance of librarian Conita Pearson and LEAP coordinator Michael Straight.   Other groups providing fans were the West Philadelphia Girl Scouts and the Virtual Tutoring and Mentoring Program.

The event was arranged in conjunction with the Peace Day Philly sponsored by Mayor Nutter which featured workshops, vigils and forums on violence, bullying, and safety around the city and in most of the Police Districts.   

The initial welcome was made by the Rev. James F. McIntire, Pastor of the Hope United Methodist Church and Chair of Heeding Gods Call who noted that victims of gun violence in Philadelphia had already exceeded 260 people this year, and hoped that this and other Peace Day Philly events would say to the world that there was another, better way of dealing with conflict.

Testimony to the tragic impact of gun violence in the lives of their family and friends was provided by Cherie Ryans of Mothers in Charge whose son was gunned down in front of hundreds of theater goers, none of whom came forward to identify the four known perpetrators – who were released due to lack of evidence and are free today.

Calls to action were made by Heading God’s Call director Bryan Miller and by Yancy Harrell whose son was a gun violence victim.  Harrell quoted in Arabic and English the opening words of al-Fatiha from Quran and noted that his son Charles, slain two years ago, would just have celebrated his 22nd birthday and had sadly never had a chance to hold his son born after he died.

The high point of the gathering was a Litany of Commitment led by the Rev. Lorie Hershey, pastor of the West Philadelphia Mennonite Church which focused on a number of quotations from the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Notable among these was that speaking out was “often a vocation of agony, but we must speak out, “and, “As a nation, we must undergo a radical revolution of values… a rapid shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. “

A community choir led the attendees in “God of Mercy, You have showed us,” and a praise song in which everyone joined in clapping hands for the Lord.

The event was closed by the Rev. Fred Kauffman, Philadelphia Program Coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee who led everyone in a blessing for being at peace with our brothers and sisters, neighbors and strangers, friends and foes.

Heeding God’s Call is a faith-based movement to prevent gun violence by challenging gun shops to adopt the Walmart code of responsible gun retailing. It can be reached at info@heedinggodscall.org or calling 856-371-3038. 

The West and Southwest Philadelphia Peace Coalition seeks is to bring together individuals, organizations and faith communities in West and Southwest Philadelphia to address forces contributing to violence in our community including domestic violence, illegal gun trafficking, poor conflict resolution skills, and lack of opportunity for youth and ex-offenders.  It has begun meeting monthly to plan anti-violence activities and support those being organized by others.   For the time being it can be reached through Heeding God’s Call, or by contacting the Globe Times at 215-727-7777. 

--Ted Behr