Baltimore, the day after

Protests explode after the death of the 25-year-old African American Freddie Gray while he was under arrest. The commitment of the Focolare community, together with other groups to pacify the city.

20150507-01[1]“The events that came about have stirred up the support of the citizens. Many leaders, religious groups and civil organizations decided to work together to clean the streets and buildings and to help in various ways, revealing the positive side of the city, though deeply offended,» Lucia, Co-Director of the Focolare Movement wrote from Washington.

We all know about the people’s protests triggered in Baltimore last month, which are still ongoing, after the death of the 25-year-old Afro-American Freddie Gray while he was under arrest. Baltimore, the biggest city of Maryland with more than 600,000 inhabitants is a melting pot of ethnic groups, especially Afro-Americans.

Leonie and Jennifer, two volunteers of the Focolare, live in the city centre. “The situation is still very tense, and yesterday the mayor closed the schools and the governor of the state deployed the armed forces. However, all those we know are fine.” Leonie lives close to the place of the clashes and teaches in a primary school of almost all Afro students and where there is great poverty. “On TV I saw one of my third-year elementary students participate in the sacking of buildings and properties.”

“We cannot remain indifferent; we want to do something concrete, though aware that our contribution to establish true relationships between people is urgent, more than ever. Furthermore, every act of love builds new relationships that help foster fraternity between people,” wrote Marilena and Mike. “In the meantime we participate in the various moments of prayer organized by the religious authorities, starting from the Mass that Archbishop Lori will celebrate in our district, to invoke peace.”

“I returned to school today,” Leonie recounts, “and tried to see my students (those who participated in the plunders) with ‘new eyes’.I contacted an Afro-American Muslim teacher who knows two black religious representatives in the school to offer our solidarity, and we agreed to work together.”

Jennifer works in a company where almost all are whites. «A colleague of mine who lives close to the place where violence broke out, came to visit me today, and told me of her suffering in seeing all these events, but did not have the courage to mention it to anyone for fear of being marginalised by her colleagues. It was the occasion to tell her that we can start from ourselves and build a dialogue with all, one at a time, and in this way spread a new mentality. My colleague is not a practicing believer, but her face lit up and she told me that this is precisely what she also wants to do.”

Meanwhile, the leaders of the various religious communities have started to work together for peace.

“I was invited by the Imam Talib of the mosque of Washington, to give my testimony on the the 5th of May as a focolarina and the ideal that inspires us,” Lucia continued. “He wanted me to speak in a meeting open to the public, something they had organized with the District Procurator, to integrate the religious perspective as an essential dimension to subdue the violence. The event was entitled: Heal the Hurt, Heal the Heart. It seemed to be a great possibility for dialogue between religions but also an opportunity to show, more than the clashing, the richness of our society’s ethnic diversities.”