White butcher paper covered the garage door in the alley behind St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in the Logan Barrio of Santa Ana California. Friends in the densely packed neighborhood have written heartfelt condolences: “We love you Baby” and “Rest in Peace little sister.” Votive candles and flowers honored the place of execution.
Forty-eight hours ago, as night darkness descended on the city, someone opened this garage door where a woman and two males had created makeshift housing. Multiple shots were heard. The woman was dead and the two men are in critical condition.
Within this alley on this Palm Sunday, five hundred parishioners crowded to sing and pray for peace and an end to the violence that since January has assaulted this city with over seventy shootings. I stand together with my friend, Father Efrain Flores, pastor of St. Josephs. Young children gather close to us at an altar on which is placed the Blessed Sacrament in a gold monstrance. The crowd sings hymns in Spanish, English and Samoan.
For thirty-five years The Episcopal Church of the Messiah, where I was rector, and St. Joseph’s Church have had a close bond, working for justice and peace for the homeless, the immigrant and neighbors who live in fear at times like this when gang violence bursts forth like a forest fire. We have created together wonderful deterrent programs like after school programs and early childhood centers. There are various theories about why the current, relentless violence that is flaring up in our neighborhood.
As we process for two hours in this twenty-second annual Palm Sunday Blessing of the Streets, we wind through streets of vintage Victorian homes, past a Senior Care facility, a AIDS hospice, a school, and densely packed five-story-high apartment buildings, where a three bedroom unit usually houses three different families. Families come out to the street as the sacred procession passes. I see a hunger for the Holy in their eyes as we remind these neighbors that Jesus is here. We reverently carry the Body of Christ in the gold monstrance, but we are also the Body of Christ, his hands and feet, with much more work to do to bring peace and an end to violence to this neighborhood.