ADVANTAGES

The Catholic community is in a position to respond to violence and the threat of violence in our society with new commitment and creativity. More of the same is not sufficient. Business as usual is not enough. Our faith and facilities can be beacons of hope and safety for those seeking refuge from violent streets and abusive homes. People can become peacemakers in their homes and communities. Parishes can organize mentoring programs for teen parents. The Church can be the first point of referral for spousal abuse. We can incorporate ways to handle family conflict in our religious education and sacramental preparation programs. We can work for public policies that confront violence, build community and promote responsibility. Finally, we can join with other churches in developing a community wide strategy for making our neighborhoods more safe, welcoming and peaceful. Here is a possible outline for action: Worship and Preaching: Parishes can invite parishioners to begin meetings and events with prayers for peace and an end to violence. The Sunday eucharistic celebration provides many opportunities for prayer and reflection on these themes, especially during Penitential Rite and the General Intercessions. The homily can be a powerful means of promoting the Scriptural call to peacemaking and to deepen our own relationship with Jesus, the source of true peace. The priest, adding a few words of his own as introduction, may wish to reinforce the significance of the Rite of Peace. Special Penance Services can be held, especially during Advent and Lent, to call us away from aggressive and violent behavior to that of peacemaking. We ask our preachers to consider how their preaching can be a call to peacemaking and a voice against violence in our families, neighborhoods and the broader community. Education: Our Catholic schools are a very significant bulwark against violence. They continue to offer moral and ethical foundations, discipline and safety for millions of children. Schools can encourage dialogue between parents and youth, can teach basic values and conflict resolution, and can provide after school programs (especially between the hours of 4:00 and 7:00 pm) for neighborhood youth. Just as clearly, our parish religious education programs can provide the values and support that can help people, especially young people, choose life and reject violence. Our schools and parish religious education programs can be vital safe havens for youth at risk. Young Adult and Adult Education Programs in parishes can provide classes and learning experiences in parenting, conflict resolution and spiritual development. Small group faith-sharing can provide opportunities for adults to share their experiences and learn from others. We can form our consciences, strengthen our commitment, and exercise our free will in ways that promote justice and resist violence. Family Ministry: The family is the key to the development of positive values, including peacemaking. Families need to talk about how violence affects each member, the family itself, and their neighborhood, and to discuss ways of responding in a non-violent manner. So much violent behavior has its roots in the deterioration of family life. Families that are experiencing domestic violence should search out helping organizations to assist them in overcoming this burden. Families can also use the evening dinner prayer or a prayer at other times to pray for peace within the family and community, and within each individual. Family life ministry can provide parenting education, support groups, and marriage preparation programs that encourage faithful, healthy and peaceful relationships. They also can offer media literacy resources to help parents take back control of their own television sets. Youth Ministry plays a unique role within the parish by providing young people with a community of peers and adults who affirm, support and challenge them. Youth programs can provide a safe and healthy place where young people can gather rather than hanging out on the street corner or at the local shopping mall. While some sports programs can contribute to violent behavior, well directed athletic programs that teach sportsmanship and promote cooperation can have a positive influence on our young people. Retreats -- such a powerful experience for teens -- can be developed around the theme of peacemaking and conflict resolution. Parishes can offer leadership training programs to develop positive life skills around Christian values. Music which plays such a significant role in the life of youth, should be used as an instrument to discuss peacemaking and non-violent behavior. Parish and school youth programs can offer real alternatives to gang membership. Outreach: Working with their local Catholic Charities agencies, parishes can support and make use of shelters and hotlines for abused family members providing financial support and volunteer assistance. The remarkable response to our statement on violence against women When I Call For Help, has yielded many models of education and outreach. Parish groups can also organize recreational programs for at risk youth, child care and emergency pregnancy centers and mentoring programs for youth and beginning families. Advocacy: Parish and diocesan representatives and other groups can meet with media representatives to bring pressure against excessive violence and pornography. Legislative networks can advocate for public policies that prevent and combat crime, restrict dangerous weapons, promote safe communities, eliminate the death penalty, and help lift people out of the "hellish cycle of poverty" and confront the violence of abortion. Building Community: Parishes can participate in wider community efforts to combat crime and work on local housing and education issues, enact spousal abuse laws, create economic opportunities and viable alternatives to violence. Supporting the Campaign for Human Development and its funding of local self-help groups is an excellent way to help build and empower communities in their battle against violence. Global Solidarity: Through twinning relationships, through support of Catholic Relief Services Operation Rice Bowl, and through advocacy on United States international policies, parishes can work against reliance on violence to resolve conflicts and for human rights and sustainable development throughout the world. African American and Hispanic Catholic Ministries: Continuing to provide exceptional leadership, these ministries bring together diverse groups across racial and ethnic lines to work against racism and violence and provide opportunities for young people. Dioceses can support the efforts of parishes by supporting and sharing successful anti-violence models. We can also organize diocesan-wide efforts such as visits to local media outlets, coordinated social services, convocations and training. As Church, we must continue our commitment to examine our own policies and practices to eliminate any form of abuse within our own Church community wherever it may exist. Diocesan leadership can help our local communities of faith come together to resist violence and promote practical steps to make our neighborhoods more just and more peaceful places. We can work with other religious bodies and community groups to make common cause against violence. Our struggle against violence will be an integral part of an interfaith initiative, the Common Ground for the Common Good. Working with other religious groups, we will seek to advance the common good by overcoming the violence which hurts us all. We recognize that this reflection is less an outline of solutions and more a call to action. We believe the most effective response to this problem is one that builds on the resources of the local community. To promote and support these local efforts, the committees of our Conference who have expressed a special interest in this initiative (African American Catholics; Campaign for Human Development; Communications; Domestic Social Policy; Education; Hispanic Affairs; Laity; Marriage and Family Life; Pro-Life; Women in Society and in the Church; and Youth) will continue to work together to collect effective models and resources and make them available to parishes and dioceses. We hope that Catholics and Catholic organizations at all levels will join us and respond to this call. Each of us can make a difference. For our part, the NCCB/USCC will in the weeks and months to come:

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