Detroiters offer powerful witness to peace at east-side prayer vigil

Choir members sing Sept. 9 during a prayer vigil for peace at St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish in Detroit.

Choir members sing Sept. 9 during a prayer vigil for peace at St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish in Detroit.

DETROIT — The worship was lively, the praises were loud and the singing was boisterous. But as Ronald Ford Jr. took to the microphone Sept. 9 at St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish on Detroit’s east side, the entire church grew silent.

Dozens of Detroit Catholics — including clergy, seminarians and bishops — gathered at the parish to pray for peace as part of the U.S. bishops’ Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities, but few were expecting to hear Ford’s testimony, as the father of nine shared the pain of losing his eldest son to gun violence one year ago.

Ford, a service minister at the parish, had just finished the last of three trials for his son’s killers, and began by admitting the difficulty of even speaking about it.

“When I talk about this, the hurt that comes with it — in court, when I was asked to be a witness in all three trials for my son — I did more crying than I did talking,” Ford told the congregation. “My son, Ronald Ford III, my firstborn named after me, whose birthday is one day after mine, last year on Aug. 23 in Detroit was gunned down, shot five times as part of a larceny crime, and left dead, slumped in his car.”

While others shared stories of violence and race-based discrimination, Ford’s testimony struck at the heart of the evening, as he related both the difficulty — and the necessity — of forgiveness.

“When I found out that my son was gunned down and my nephew came directly to my house for revenge, I told him quickly and I meant it, ‘Whoever it is, I love them,’” Ford said. “That wasn’t just me speaking; I know that was God speaking through me. Although I meant it and I still do, it was hard to say. I do love the person, but I hate the sin.”

Ford implored those gathered not to seek retribution, which causes “a cycle of murder, a cycle of hate in our city,” he said, but to trust God instead.

The evening was part of a series of prayer vigils sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries, called “Taking Back the Night.”

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, who presided over the service, called on the congregation — and by extension the archdiocese — to work against violence in the city, especially against the most innocent and vulnerable, and to turn toward Jesus in prayer.

“As we’re praying tonight all I can think about are the stories of the little babies who are killed, who are so innocent, but that doesn’t mean that any life is less worthwhile,” the archbishop said. “We need to let God make us better.

“Certainly, there are these sins in each of us that we must repent of, but because Christ is risen, even the terrible things can be transformed into victory, and we praise and thank God for that.”