“Enough is enough.” This rallying cry united hundreds of thousands of students as they came together last weekend as part of March for Our Lives, an urgent call for gun law reform in the United States. The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province and their partners-in-ministry joined the demonstrations, supporting the young people as they advocated for changes in laws and against a culture of violence.
Representing Necessary Change
St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., served as a host for people from other Provincial ministries who came to participate in the Washington, D.C., march from out of town, including students from St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y. One of the students, Ashley Delvento, grew up under the specter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which took place in 2012 in the town where her family lives.
“Sandy Hook was a turning point in my life,” said the native of Newtown, Conn. “No longer did I get a ‘Have fun at school’ when I left the house. Instead, I got a ‘Know where your exits are.’ I marched because I know what it’s like to see people you know on television and newscasters standing on the streets you drive down every day.
“The march itself was amazing,” she added. “Each speaker brought a different angle to the issue, and with it, the realization that we are all facing this issue together. Whether it is school shootings or neighborhood violence, it is all related to a need for better gun control and regulation. I felt it was very important for me to march to both represent my community and to represent the change that I know needs to happen in this country.”
The day before the march, students from Saint Francis International School next door to St. Camillus packed more than 300 bags of food and drink for marchers to take with them on the bus to the nation’s capital. On the morning of the march, St. Camillus Parish offered a multilingual Mass to pray for a solution to all forms of violence and to pray that God would bless the advocacy led by the young people at the march. After the liturgy, the participants boarded four buses and Christopher Posch, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus, prayed with and blessed each group of travelers before they joined the crowd of 800,000 people in Washington, D.C.
Before the Washington march began, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, preached to students and their allies who packed into St. Patrick’s Church. During his homily, he drew a parallel between the readings from Jeremiah, who was appointed a prophet of peace as a youth, to the young people in the packed church. “God believes in you. God is empowering you,” said Jacek.
Students and Senators
Prior to the march, students from Cristo Rey Newark, N.J., the high school where Robert Sandoz, OFM, is president and Gregory Gebbia, OFM, is principal, met with Senator Cory Booker, a former mayor of Newark, in his office on Capitol Hill.
“The students were able to communicate to the senator their hopes for peace in Newark and for the removal of weapons of violence from their streets,” Robert said. “Senator Booker assured the students of his commitment to work for peace in the Greater Newark community. These students make their voices heard.”
Sophomore Grace Owosu emphasized the importance of the marchers sharing their message.
“It is important for our voices to be heard. People in Congress are voted in to be our voice,” she said. “This issue of gun control has been happening for years and should be something we can resolve before people lose their lives.”
She and her classmates appreciated the opportunity to meet Senator Booker.
“When people think of Newark, they think of a dirty city,” she said. “They think of hoodlums and they think that we won’t go far. Meeting Senator Booker was very inspiring because he came from Newark and now he is a U.S. senator. He had a lot to say and I felt that we could connect, even though he is much older than us.”
Friars and partners-in-ministry from St. Camillus Parish chant as they join the march in Washington, D.C. (Video courtesy of Erick López)
‘Enough is Enough’
While they marched, students chanted “enough is enough.” Rafael Visoso, a sixth grader from Saint Francis International School, agreed.
“I marched because I’ve had enough,” he said. “I don’t want a school shooting to happen here or anywhere else. It’s too much. We need stricter gun laws.”
One of his teachers, Maggie Blake, said she felt it was important to attend to show her students by example how important it is to speak out when something needs to change.
“I went to the march because of my students,” said the middle school social studies teacher. “They constantly ask me what I would do if there was a shooting at our school, and it is hard to come up with an answer for them. Every student deserves to feel and be safe when they are in school.”
Several of the postulants also attended the march. Steven Young and Loren Moreno spoke with National Catholic Reporter about their experiences.
“So many of the speakers knew the issues so well,” said Steven. “They put to shame a lot of the adults. I feel ready to step behind them and to follow their lead.”
Loren agreed. “They’ve taken this dark moment and turned it into a movement. It’s amazing.”
Inspired by Young People
Also in the crowd in Washington, D.C., were Joseph Juracek, OFM, 35 students and 10 adults from two New Jersey parishes – St. Anthony in Butler and St. Mary’s in Pompton Lakes.
“For me, the most moving parts of the march were hearing students get up and talk about their experience of gun violence,” said Joe. “I found myself cheering for their bravery and courage to speak out and crying over their experience of loss and anxiety of being in a situation where someone is shooting at you in your school.”
Partners-in-ministry from St. Mary’s Parish ministries “Franciscan Response to Fracking” and “Advocates for Justice” also participated in local marches in Morristown and New Milford, N.J., as well as at venues in Tuscan, Ariz., and Washington, D.C.
“Young people registered voters all along the paths of the march to the rally in D.C.,” said Renee Allessio, a member of both ministries. “It was both inspiring and impressive. They get how important voting is.”
Other friars who participated in the march in Washington included James Bernard, OFM, Robert Frazzetta, OFM, Erick López, OFM, Richard McFeely, OFM, Jim McIntosh, OFM, Joseph Nangle, OFM, and Angel Vázquez, OFM.
“My impression was one of amazement that – in a society which, in my view, had given up on challenging our gun culture and the NRA and had started to accept the gun violence in our schools, nightclubs, movie theaters, ball lots, etc. So many people turned out,” said Jim. “These were Americans. They spanned all ages, races, genders, and faiths. They came together to demand that the government do its part to limit the gun violence in our society. It was inspiring and hope-giving.”
In Albany, N.Y., three friars from nearby Siena College – Brian Belanger, OFM. Sean O’Brien, OFM, and Michael Tyson, OFM – joined the more than 5,000 people who participated in March for Our Lives in New York’s capital.
“It was invigorating and inspiring to see the students so impassioned about such an important issue and reminding us about our obligation and duty to stand with them to advocate for the changes that they seek,” said Sean, associate director of Siena’s Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy.
In Boston, St. Anthony Shrine hosted the Archdiocese of Boston’s Mass for Peace, Justice and Healing that proceeded a rally on Boston Common, which Michael Johnson, OFM, attended. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., addressed the congregation before the Mass began.
“School shootings have had a galvanizing impact on the public because of the death of innocent young people, even very young children,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “But the ‘March for Our Lives’ call us to also acknowledge and address the national crisis of young people who each day are killed on the streets of cities across the country, including here in Boston. The school shootings have focused our attention and efforts, but we must also address the devastation to families and neighborhoods, often in our poorest communities.
“We need strong leadership from public officials and our courts that respects our rights but also protects our communities,” he added. “These efforts need to be supported by our faith communities, our business and educational leadership, and our citizens.”A diocesan priest presided during the Mass and the preacher was a diocesan deacon. The liturgy was covered by several media outlets.
The friar community on Arch Street was happy to offer the chapel for the Mass, according to guardian Frank Sevola, OFM.
“The Mass, as evidenced by Cardinal O’Malley’s remarks, went beyond gun control,” said Frank. “Yes, that was an important theme. However, the overarching themes of peace, justice and healing carried through the Mass. It seems to me that concentrating our efforts on those three virtues will help us address the issues of all violence – including gun violence – and will help us get a much better understanding of gun control.”
Close to 100 parishioners from St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., joined the 11,000 people who attended the March for Our Lives in Hartford. The event was co-organized by students from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Two of the speakers were 32-year-old Erica Lafferty and 19-year-old Tyler Suarez, the daughter and nephew of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook who was killed during the massacre.
“We had a day of faith and action in support of the march,” said John Gill, OFM. “Our day started with a 11:30 a.m. prayer service in the church led by Thomas Gallagher, OFM. After some refreshments and drinks, we walked together to the State Capitol for the start of the march. We had a number of families with teenagers and young children present, as well as older people. Tom, John Leonard, OFM, Francis Soucy, OFM, and I participated.”
In Hackensack, N.J., Paul Keenan, OFM, of nearby Assumption Parish in Wood-Ridge, attended a rally with approximately 600 students, parents, teachers, and civic and religious leaders from across the state. “It was an honor to speak to students and listen to their stories,” he said. “They aren’t only concerned about gun violence at schools, but also the daily gun violence in Hackensack, Passaic, and other high-crime neighborhoods in which they live.”
Also attending a local march were partners-in-ministry from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C. A large group of parishioners gathered at the peace pole outside of the church before heading downtown to join the 10,000 people who listened to survivors of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, as well as other speakers, during a rally.
Building Bridges with Marginalized Communities
In Florida, Steven Pavignano, OFM, used the Orlando march as an opportunity to reach out to marginalized groups in the community.
“I was very conscious of the lack of visibility of church and religious representatives, including Catholic schools,” said Steve. “I spoke at length with the program coordinator for the Arab-American Community Center. She invited me to the large celebration they were having the next day, but it being Palm Sunday, I had to decline. We agreed to talk in a few weeks to see how we can bring to St. Joseph Parish a program about the discrimination experienced by the Arab-American community in the Orlando area. I am hoping that we can build on the showing we had in December for ‘The Sultan and the Saint’ film.”
The Orlando march included speeches by Keinon Carter, who was wounded during the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, as well as a number of students from Parkland, Fla., local activists, and politicians. The route went from Lake Eola Park to City Hall, ending near Pulse Nightclub. Police estimated that 25,000 people attended.
Thousands of people also flooded Union Park and nearby streets in Chicago. Joseph Rozansky, OFM, was among the 85,000 in attendance at the rally, which was organized by local students. One of the speakers was Caitlyn Smith, a 12-year-old from Chicago Heights, who became involved in ending Chicago violence after her older brother was shot in the head outside their home seven years ago.
“The students got their point across through songs, poetry, rap and short speeches,” Joseph said. “Throughout the time I was there, the bottom line message was that they wanted change, that they will organize to bring it about, and that politicians need to respond to their message. I was inspired by their enthusiasm and organizational ability. I plan to continue to support them and work with them for sensible gun laws in this country.”
Several of the student friars in Chicago participated in marches around the country, including St. Louis, where Aaron Richardson, OFM, Roberto Serrano, OFM, Jay Woods, OFM, and Br. Joshua Critchley, OFM, of Immaculate Conception Province were among the more than 10,000 participants. One of the speakers was Liesl Fressola, a St. Louis teacher who survived the Sandy Hook shooting.
“When the date for this march was announced, we noticed that we would be in St. Louis and we knew that we wanted to participate in the march there,” said Jay. “I was touched by the young families that were marching together. Unlike many other rallies and marches, this march and this movement – begun so courageously by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – has given a voice to those so affected by these shootings – the students, teachers, and faculty of schools throughout our country. I marched because I want a safe world in which my nephews and nieces can learn and explore.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this story.
Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office appreciates the information and the many photos submitted by Provincial ministries and acknowledges that not all comments and photos are able to be used in this article. Visit the Province’s Facebook page as well as those of Provincial ministry sites to see additional photos of people who participated in the March for Our Lives events.
- “US Franciscans Release Statement Following Charlottesville Violence” – Aug. 25, 2017, HNP Today
- “Signs of the Times: Dispelling the Shadow of American Militarism” – July 12, 2016, HNP Today
- “WNY Secular Franciscans Advocate for Gun Violence Awareness” – April 2, 2014, HNP Today
- “Seasonal Reflection: Being Pro-Life and Anti-Guns” – Jan. 30, 2013, HNP Today