By Kristen L. Byrd, Special to The Catholic Virginian

On August 12, the world watched as the historic city of Charlottesville became a battleground. Violence erupted at a protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The protest included people espousing Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist ideology and hate speech filled the air as protesters and counter protesters shouted to have their voices heard.

Counter protester Heather Heyer was killed by a car driven by a man authorities say was among those marchers spouting Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist ideology. Nineteen others were injured. It was a shocking scene, and Charlottesville responded en masse.

Just a day after the protest, on August 13, the CatholicHoos, the home of Catholic students at UVA, held a prayer vigil at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. More than 250 men and women attended and 150 rosaries were handed out to anyone who wanted one.

Stated Fr. Joseph Barranger, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas UVA parish, “Charlottesville is a place of tolerance and brotherly love for all, and we pride ourselves on our diverse university and civic community. This is a blessing from God, and a foretaste of the perfection of the Kingdom of God promised by our Savior Jesus Christ…these terrible events show us how far we still are from the Kingdom of God…May God change the hearts of those who are given to the terrible sin of racism.” The Catholic- Hoos are working closely with students as they return to campus.

People of all backgrounds and faiths gathered on the University of Virginia’s campus for a peace vigil on Wednesday, August 16. They sang “This Little Light of Mine” with candles in their hands, a sharp contrast to the torches being carried by protesters just days before. Parishes across the community held special events aimed at bringing healing and hope.

A few days later on August 16, the Church of the Incarnation held a special Mass for peace. “The poor souls who are infected with Neo Nazi and White Supremacist ideology have been overcome by evil. Their actions are motivated by fear and hatred and violence,” Father Gregory Kandt said in his homily.

The answer, he said, is both simple and profound: love our enemies. “Jesus told us to love our enemies,” Fr. Kandt said. “There is nothing so radical as that, which is why it’s hardly ever been tried.”

He encouraged worshippers at the Mass to go beyond simply associating with people who think as they do, and reaching across the divide to understand and speak to others.

“If we love our enemies, we might be hated by those who hate our enemies. If we love our enemies, we might even be killed by the enemies we are trying to love,” he said. “But maybe, just maybe, with Jesus by our side, we can save a soul.”

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo’s Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo’s statement on Diocesan response in the aftermath of Charlottesville

“I remain deeply saddened about the devastating events in Charlottesville over the weekend, most especially I mourn the loss of lives and the injuries of many more. Hatred, and its manifestations of racism, neo-Nazism and white supremacy, are sins against God and profoundly wound the children of God. I am grateful for the many people, including clergy and people of faith, who bravely stood against hate, whether in prayer or in person. I also thank and pray for the men and women from law enforcement and emergency services who protect us. I continue to join my brother priests and bishops, the lay faithful and people of all faiths as we turn to God in prayer. We ask his mercy, pardon and wisdom as we root out these long-standing evils, strands of which, tragically,remain woven within the fabric of our society.”

“In the coming days, our Diocese is exploring how we can address the issues highlighted in Charlottesville through prayer and action. As we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we ask our Blessed Mother to intervene on our behalf. O Mary, Queen of Peace-pray for us.”

– issued on August 14, 2017