People holds candles in a prayer for peace during the ecumenical prayer service for peace and healing Sept. 7 at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers. (PHOTOS BY BOB REDDY | FC)

Residents gather for peace, healing

FORT MYERS  |  “Knowledge, respect, encounter and dialogue” are the key ingredients if real progress is to be made in society and in local communities to end the cycle of extreme violence which has become so commonplace that we are becoming desensitized.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said these words during an ecumenical prayer service for peace and healing, which took place at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers Sept. 7. The goal of the prayer service is to start a conversation that works toward people and reconciliation in the community.

The location of the prayer serve was symbolic as it was located near where several recent acts of violence toward young people have taken place in recent months, including a shooting at a local club in late July which left two teens killed and 18 others wounded, and the murder of high school student in late August and more.

“We gather as women and men of faith to enliven and renew our community with a spirit of peace and reconciliation,” Bishop Dewane said.

Churches, synagogues and mosques in the downtown Fort Myers area were invited to attend and pray for peace in the community, including more than a dozen priests from Catholic Parishes throughout Lee County. More than 400 people attended the prayer service including Fort Myers Councilwoman Teresa Watkins-Brown, who gave a reading; Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazemi and his wife; the principals from St. Francis Xavier, St. Andrew and Bishop Verot Catholic schools; as well a delegation of students from  Bishop Verot Catholic High School.

Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs was at the event along with 10 fellow officers. He noted afterward that the prayer service was an appropriate step in creating healing within the community.

“We must continue to work together as a community; this includes the faith-based groups, the citizens, the politicians and the public servants,” Diggs said. “Bringing peace to the community requires a unified commitment and action to work together to find reasonable solutions to complicated problems.”

Bishop Dewane agreed, saying act of hatred and brutality can bring upon despair. “But it is in demonstrating the power of dialogue and mutual respect that we can march forward toward the goal of one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

The prayer service appropriately began with a “Prayer for Healing,” and included several Scripture readings, music from the Our Lady of Light Parish choir, and petitions read by students from Bishop Verot Catholic High School. There was also a Litany for Peace, calling on the Lord to stay with us in times of despair.

Bishop Dewane and Father Anthony Hewitt, St. Francis Xavier Administrator, then lit candles from the altar and shared the flame of peace with all present.

Once all of the candles were lit and the lights lowered, Bishop Dewane said, “Let us all pause for a moment of silence and pray for all who have been affected by violence, and for family, friends and those who have no one to pray for them.This was followed by everyone reciting the Lord’s Prayer, a concluding prayer and the closing hymn.

The ecumenical prayer service for peace and healing was in keeping with what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had suggested to U.S. dioceses, that events be organized for a “National Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities” to promote peace and healing after the unrest that has taken place.