August 1, 2014

‘Prayer is the least we can do’: Indianapolis parish invites all to pray nine novenas for an end to violence

From left to right, St. Monica Parish pastor Father Todd Goodson, Michelle Meer, Christina Dickson (partially obscured), Anne Corcoran, John McShea, Dabrice Bartet, Mary Shepherd and Ed Witulski conclude a meeting in prayer on July 9 at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. Through a series of nine novenas, nine holy hours and a prayer service, the group seeks to curb the increasing trend toward deadly violence. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

From left to right, St. Monica Parish pastor Father Todd Goodson, Michelle Meer, Christina Dickson (partially obscured), Anne Corcoran, John McShea, Dabrice Bartet, Mary Shepherd and Ed Witulski conclude a meeting in prayer on July 9 at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. Through a series of nine novenas, nine holy hours and a prayer service, the group seeks to curb the increasing trend toward deadly violence. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Dabrice Bartet moved to Indianapolis 22 years ago because Indianapolis “was a very safe place.”

“I was going to move to [Washington] D.C. after I graduated [from college in France], but it was too scary. So I moved to peaceful Indianapolis,” says the member of St. Monica Parish on the city’s northwest side.

But she doesn’t feel so safe anymore.

“The violence now is very unsettling. You go home and you just pull right into the garage. You can no longer leave your garage door open. You feel like you have to be watching all the time.”

‘Novenas give stability in prayer’

That’s why Bartet and a team of nearly a dozen other St. Monica parishioners have implemented a program of prayer—a series of nine novenas (a prayer recited for nine days) promoting peace.

“I came up with the idea for novenas because prayer is very powerful,” says Bartet. “For me, novenas give you stability in prayer for nine days. We will be doing it for 81 days.”

The novenas will occur during a timeframe that includes a semi-annual Service of Remembrance and Peacemaking sponsored by The Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis, which will take place at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Indianapolis on Sept. 25 for the families of recent murder victims. (Related: Information on novenas, holy hours and prayer service for peace)

“We wanted to pray every day leading up to the city-wide prayer service on Sept. 25,” says Bartet. “We started too late for it to be nine novenas by then, so we’ll pray one more novena after the prayer service to make it nine novenas.”

Indianapolis and Columbus—a connection in violence

As of July 27, the number of murders in the city in 2014 stands at 85, including Nathan Trapuzzano, a Catholic man who was shot and killed on April 1 while on a morning walk just a month before his first wedding anniversary, the birth of his first child, and his 25th birthday.

The city’s homicide rate already exceeds last year’s—2.8 murders per week versus 2.3 murders per week in 2013. If the violent trend continues, the city could break its deadliest annual record set in 1998, when 162 homicides were committed.

The St. Monica group promoting the nine novenas seeks not just parish participation, but participation throughout the archdiocese.

“Love thy neighbor doesn’t just mean your physical neighbor,” says Edmund Witulski, head of St. Monica Parish’s social justice committee and a member of the peace-promoting group. “It means everyone, regardless of color, race, income level or region. My hope is that everyone participates as a brother and a sister in Christ.”

A look at national statistics on violence indicates the need for participation in the novenas indeed extends to areas in the archdiocese beyond Indianapolis.

The online newspaper 247WallSt.com issued a special report on Feb. 11 regarding 10 U.S. cities that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified as having the greatest increase in violent crime rate—which includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault—based on statistics from 1992-2012.

Number two on that list is Columbus in south central Indiana.

According to the report, “Although the violent crime rate [in Columbus] remained relatively low when compared with most metro areas in 2012, the rate increased by more than 70 percent from 2007.”

With the entire archdiocese praying the novenas for an end to violence, says Witulski, “we can move mountains” to turn those statistics around.

‘Not doing anything to help—that was me’

Bartet was not always so active in pursuing peace. It was not until she heard a homily by Father Todd Goodson, pastor of St. Monica Parish, that she began to question her attitude.

“In his homily, he said that if you are one who is tired of listening to the news because every morning when you turn it on there is something bad going on, you’re removing yourself from the situation. You’re not doing anything to help,” she recalls. “That was me. I had stopped watching the news just because of that [same reason].”

Then on May 27, one day after the city’s 63rd homicide, Father Goodson put forth a challenge on Facebook that spurred Bartet to action: “If anyone is interested in helping end violence in the city, please contact me and let’s see what we can do.”

The reason for the post was simple, says Father Goodson.

“It was time to do something,” he says. “It’s homicidal violence that is disturbing to me, and I think disturbing to others.”

Bartet responded to the post, as did nearly a dozen others. After only a few weeks, the novena prayer plan was in place.

“It’s the work of the Holy Spirit,” says St. Monica Parish member Michelle Meer, who serves on the group as well as serving as vice president of programs for The Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis. “Father [Goodson] had mentioned maybe doing a prayer service for the families and the victims, and I said, ‘Well, that already exists’ because I knew about [the federation’s] prayer service.”

‘Breakdown of families’ as cause for violence

The first novena was to the Holy Spirit, praying “for enlightenment to open hearts to turn toward peace rather than violence.”

Other novenas include one to St. Dominic Savio, patron saint of juvenile delinquents; to St. Joseph, patron saint of families; to Mary, Undoer of Knots; to Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and others.

The intentions of the novenas cover many facets of those affected by violence.

“So much of this [violence] is happening because of the breakdown of families,” says Bartet. “So we’re praying for people committing the violence, but also for their families and those affected by the violence.”

Other intentions include praying for the safety of civil responders, ending gun violence in schools, for individuals to recognize their role as peacemakers, as well as other intentions. (See related story below for more information on the novenas and intentions.)

‘Prayer is the least we can do’

To enhance the prayer component, each novena will include a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament at the parish.

It is no accident that the primary action the St. Monica Parish group is taking revolves around prayer.

“Father Todd loved the idea of novenas,” says Witulski, who was spurred to involvement after Father Goodson issued a challenge to prayer-based action during a talk he gave at St. Monica Parish on May 27 on the topic of violence. “This is totally what he was talking about—prayer every day. Prayer is the least we can do.”

Father Goodson sees participation in the novenas as not just good for helping to end violence in local communities, but also as an opportunity for enlightenment for those who pray.

“We want to challenge ourselves as we pray,” he says. “Where is God leading us? Where do we take risks to encourage people to live in a peaceful way? We need to ask these questions.”

Bartet has her own hopes for the fruits of the novenas, prayer service and holy hours.

“I hope that Christ and our Blessed Mother can help people change their hearts to be more open to peace, to choose peace instead of anxiety and violence,” she says.

“Once you realize you are loved, you realize that your life is precious. I hope people can see can see how precious their life is, and all life—not perfect, but precious.” †

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