Nearly 200 people responded to the deaths of two black men and five police officers with a prayer for peace. Representatives of area religious organizations joined together for a citywide prayer vigil.
On the afternoon of Sunday, July 11, speakers gathered to inspire each other and their congregations to pray for peace as a reply to the violence that has entered the lives of people in the United States in the past few days.
Pastor William Gillison, of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, which hosted the event, led the call for prayers instead of violence, saying he was grateful that the event has gone beyond concerned clergy, to include concerned people of God from every walk of life.
"We believe that we have been summoned here for a specific purpose, and that purpose, my brothers and sisters, is for prayer. Amen. There are those among us whose stated purpose in our society is to serve and protect, from the federal, state and local levels. But, the truth of the matter is they have not been able to keep or bring peace into our communities as much as they try," he said from a stage in the church's parking lot.
"I want to say this. Our young people have lost the true meaning of brotherly love. Violence has become the order of the day, and the blood of many is crying out for justice. I share with you today, I believe the answer to our devastating problems will not come from government, regardless of what level that government may be. ... I believe, praise God, that this is the time for the people of God to show to the world, if there is going to be meaningful change that will take place, the people of God have to step forth into our rightful place and call upon our God. He will turn things around. This is not a social problem. It is a heart problem. And only God can change the hearts of men and women."
Other speakers included Rev. Chan-Tell King Beckwith of St. Luke AME Zion Church, Pastor Dennis Lee of Hopewell Baptist Church, the Very Rev. Will Mebane of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Pastor Jeff Carter of Ephesus Ministries, Bishop Michael Badger of Bethesda World Harvest International Church, and Bishop Robert L. Sanders Sr. of Greater Refuge Temple of Christ Church.
After the service, Father Ronald P. Sajdak spoke to the Western New York Catholic about what he has seen in his parishes in the days following the July 9 shooting of Dallas police officers that left five dead and seven wounded. Father Sajdak has a unique set of parishes under his care. St. Martin de Porres, located in Buffalo's Central City, is predominantly comprised of Africans and African-Americans, while St. Lawrence, in Buffalo, and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, out in the suburb of Harris Hill, are mostly white.
"The people of St. Martin de Porres are really touched and disturbed and afraid," Father Sajdak said. "I've had one of our young men who came to this country as a refugee, who's been here since the year 2000, so 16 years, who is now a citizen of the country, who graduated from Canisius College with a BA and a master's from UB, who's incredibly hopeful for the future, admit to me that for the first time, he's afraid of being a black man in this country. He never had that kind of despair ever before. That's only the tip of the iceberg of what people in the African-American community feel. At the same time, working in (Harris Hill), I challenged people today not to rush into any kind of judgment, but to walk with our sisters and brothers together and to dialogue together to better understand issues."
A black man identified as Micah Johnson is believed to have ambushed police working security at a Dallas Black Lives Matter rally following the deaths of two black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Father Sajdak has seen reports from people who believe the Black Lives Matter cause is racist. He calls it an issue "a lot of white America doesn't want to look at, at all."
On Fox News, he saw a commentator ask a group gathered to discuss the issue, "Don't all lives matter?"
"A person in the crowd, just a normal person in the crowd, answered it so very well," explained Father Sajdak. "He said, 'Of course, all lives matter. Of course all Oriental lives matter. Of course all Hispanic lives matter. Of course all white lives matter. Of course all police lives matter. But for those people who feel victimized; for those people who over and over and over again are the subject of wide-brush prejudice, black lives matter most to them because they're hurting so badly.'"
The SSJ Sister Karen Klimczak Center, WNY Peace Center, Interfaith Peace Network sponsored the event, along with the Concord Clergy Coalition of WNY.