News & Commentary

Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Grief Ministry helps families affected by mass shootings

A child's bicycle, seen in a still image from video, lies on a lawn as a police office walks down a residential street in Baltimore July 2, 2023, after a mass shooting at a Fourth of July holiday weekend block party. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore asked for prayers for the victims after the mass shooting left two dead and injured more than two dozen others, most of whom were teens. (OSV News photo/Reuters)

BALTIMORE (OSV News) — The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Grief Ministry is working to help the families affected by the July 2 mass shooting in the South Baltimore community of Brooklyn that claimed the lives of 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi and 18-year-old Aaliyah Gonzalez.

Twenty-eight others were injured in the shooting, which happened during a “Brooklyn Day” block party.

Early July 7 Baltimore police arrested a 17-year-old male in connection with the mass shooting. Police previously said they were looking for at least two suspects but have not ruled out additional shooters, according to local news media. On July 10, a judge ruled the suspect be held without bail and agreed with prosecutors that he poses an “extreme danger to the community,” according to Baltimore’s CBS News affiliate.

The Grief Ministry, established in 2021, is a partnership between the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Baltimore Police Department and Roberta’s House, a family grief center that supports families long-term.

According to Yvonne Wenger, director of community affairs for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the overarching goal of the Grief Ministry is to build a coalition for peace and channel hope to communities.

The Grief Ministry coordinates with a unit of homicide survivor advocates who work for the Baltimore Police Department to provide care packages for families of homicide victims. The advocates learn more about the families and put in specific requests. According to Wenger, 50% of care packages go to mothers of homicide victims.

“The care packages go a long way in helping families impacted by violence and building bridges from law enforcement into the communities,” Wenger told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet.

Care packages typically include groceries and gift cards for necessities. Sometimes victims are living in hotels because their home is a crime scene. They may need toiletries, laundry detergent, diapers and comforts such as soft blankets or other items for the children in the family. Volunteers also include a handwritten sympathy note.

“What the advocates communicate is the families are so moved by our care packages,” Wenger said. “We have a fresh food component which makes us stand out. We provide things such as milk, lunch meats, fresh bread and fresh vegetables to make a salad. The families appreciate that.”

The Grief Ministry is currently working with the advocates to determine the Brooklyn families’ needs and will coordinate efforts with parishes, including St. Rose of Lima, located in the community.

Since the Grief Ministry was formed in 2021, Wenger said the group has helped approximately 350 families, including more than 1,200 individuals. As of July 6, there have been 145 homicides in Baltimore City in 2023.

The United States endured a record number of mass killings in the first half of 2023, according to a new analysis. A database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University defines a mass killing as an incident where four or more people are slain, excluding the assailant, within a 24-hour period. The record displaced the previous record set in 2022 of 27 mass killings, set in the final half of that year.

In addition to the work of the Grief Ministry, the Baltimore Archdiocese has a previously planned gun buyback and resource fair scheduled for Aug. 5 at a location to be determined in West Baltimore.

The gun buyback event is presented by St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish in Irvington and the Baltimore Police Department, in association with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Catholic Charities and First and Franklin Presbyterian Church. It is a no-questions-asked, safe and anonymous way to turn in guns — legal or illegal.

After the mass shooting in Brooklyn, Archbishop Lori said in a July 2 statement, “Ask our Lord to bring peace and comfort to the families whose lives are forever changed and ask him to bring healing to the community. Lord, bring us independence and deliverance from violence’s stranglehold on our culture.”

The archbishop, who also prayed for the victims during Mass July 2 at Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, added that, together, “with the grace of God, we can work to create a future where no one wakes up to the news of another mass shooting. It is possible.”

Archbishop Lori urged people as they pray to “consider ways that we might be called to act. Consider how all of us can support neighborhood and community efforts that work to end violence in our streets,” he said.

He said the Archdiocese of Baltimore, like the Catholic Church has done in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, recognizes “the pain caused by gun violence.” He encouraged participation in the gun buyback.

Wenger acknowledged that the gun buyback is not a solution to the violence, but “a direct response to Pope Francis’ call to get guns out of circulation.”

Guns collected in the buyback can no longer be used in suicide, domestic violence, home invasions or other crimes, she said.

“God has the potential to inspire and move repeat offenders to turn in their guns,” she said.

Father Michael Murphy, pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish in Baltimore, said there are people on both sides of the argument on the effectiveness of gun buybacks, “but the bottom line is even one or two guns off the street can save someone’s life.”

“There have been more and more shootings, and this loss of life and the accessibility of guns — especially with our young people — is worrisome,” Father Murphy said.

Catholic Charities, which operates a Safe Streets outreach to promote nonviolence, had four Safe Streets Brooklyn staff members who went to the Brooklyn Day event after 9 p.m., following their coverage of other areas in the community earlier in their shift.

“Upon arriving, there were opportunities to intervene in a few minor conflicts — none directly involving guns,” Catholic Charities said in a July 6 statement. “Several members of our staff’s family attended this traditionally family-friendly event as they are residents of the community. Upon their shift ending at 11 p.m., our staff members left the event around 11:30 p.m.”

Once the Safe Streets’ staff heard of the shooting, “they immediately returned to the scene, remaining on-site” or at the hospitals where victims, including their loved ones were being treated until 5 a.m., Catholic Charities said. “The team returned to the scene at 10 a.m. the following morning to continue to support the community.”

“Catholic Charities is proud of our team members in Brooklyn,” Catholic Charities said. “They, like so many others, including their own families, were directly impacted, injured and traumatized by this event. We will continue to surround our Safe Streets teams with support so they can continue to do the work they are passionate about, which is reducing gun violence in the city they know and call home.”

By Lisa Harlow | OSV News


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