Three years ago, on April 22, 2011, an E4 tornado hit the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. The Good Friday storm destroyed many houses and businesses, caused tree damage, hit the international airport and left thousands without power.
The worst damage was sustained in the Bridgeton and Berkeley areas, two suburbs about 20 miles northwest of downtown St. Louis. But the storm’s impact also extended a few miles east into a little town called Ferguson.
In the tornado’s aftermath, “people worked together unbelievably,” said Father Robert “Rosy” T. Rosebrough, pastor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson. As a community, they rallied together to rebuild and to heal.
But that same community hasn’t been as unified in recent weeks in the wake of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed by Ferguson County police officer Darren Wilson. While accounts vary as to what actually took place, it’s been determined that Brown was unarmed at the time of his death. That fact, along with differing accounts of the shooting and at times clumsy decisions by the local police, has resulted in anger and confusion on the part of many members of the Ferguson community.
“I don’t know that we have a consensus,” said Father Donald Buhr, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Cross Church in nearby Baden, Missouri. “People seem divided in their opinions about who’s causing what.”
Some of his parishioners are scared and afraid to go out after dark, Father Rosy said. Others are eager to help, but not sure exactly what to do. Father Rosy isn’t sure what to do either, but he knows that simply stopping the violence is not the answer.
“Michael Brown’s death is the fuse of a lot of issues that are below the surface,” he said. “So if you just address the issues that are on top, you’re not addressing what’s underneath.”
A priority, he said, is to help Ferguson — which is 66 percent African-American — develop more black leaders.
“How do we train the people to make sure they get a voice?” he said. The ideal outcome, Father Rosy added, “is that we as a faith community help engender leadership and affirm that leadership among different cultures in our own community and in communities around us.”
But the most important thing, he said, is prayer. Father Rosy especially turns to the example of Mary when she was faced with brokenness.
“Her response was, ‘let it be,’” he said. “Let my womb become the answer.” In that same vein, local parishes are praying novenas and scheduling prayer services. St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson scheduled a Mass for peace and justice.
“We are all called to be instruments of peace through our words and actions,” the archbishop wrote Aug. 18. “I ask all the faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to join me in praying to Our Blessed Mother and to her son ... for peace and justice in our community.”