WASHINGTON, DC (CNA/EWTN News) - After several shootings and increased racial tensions around the country, the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a national day of prayer and appointed a task force devoted to peace and unity.
"I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence," said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president.
"The Day of Prayer and special Task Force will help us advance in that direction. By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities."
The newest statement and task force reflect sentiments in a previous statement from Archbishop Kurtz released earlier this month, urging prayer, reflection, and dialogue following racially-related shootings and violence in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas.
"To all people of good will, let us beg for the strength to resist the hatred that blinds us to our common humanity. To my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us gather at the Cross of Jesus. Our Savior suffered at the hands of humanity's worst impulses, but He did not lose hope in us or in His heavenly father. Love overcomes evil," he said in his July 8 statement.
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot July 5 after an encounter with police in Baton Rouge.
One day after Sterling's death, an African American man in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, was shot four times by a police officer and later died. Philando Castile, age 32, had been pulled over for an alleged broken tail-light.
On July 7, five Dallas police officers were killed in what authorities called a "sniper ambush" at the end of a peaceful protest against police shootings of African Americans.
In the following days, police officers were also shot and killed in racially-related incidents in Baton Rouge and Kansas City, Kan.
The National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities will be celebrated Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver, the patron saint of African Americans.
The task force, which will be headed by former USCCB president Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, will collect and distribute resources, listen to concerns of community members and law enforcement, and work to rebuild relationships and resolve conflicts. The group will also present a report on their activities and recommendations at the November meeting of the USCCB.
"I am honored to lead this Task Force which will assist my brother bishops, individually and as a group, to accompany suffering communities on the path toward peace and reconciliation," Archbishop Gregory said in a statement.
"We are one body in Christ, so we must walk with our brothers and sisters and renew our commitment to promote healing. The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else's; it is our own, in our very dioceses."
The announcement of the day of prayer and the creation of the task force follows several prayer vigils and peace efforts in the Catholic Church, and comes at the end of a novena for peace launched by the Knights of Columbus following the shootings.