By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — For the past year, concerned citizens have gathered to pray with others for an end to gun violence and to support neighbors where gunshots have been fired.
Davenport Bearing Witness has marked instances of violence since July 30, 2020. The group observed the one-year anniversary with a vigil at 13th and Gaines streets on July 30, 2021.
Bearing Witness began in 2003 as a ministry of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary. Today, Davenport Bearing Witness continues the commitment of prayerful witness started by the religious sisters, according to the Davenport Bearing Witness e-newsletter.
The group’s participants are committed to gathering to pray for healing with individuals and families, never accept gun violence as inevitable or normal, offering direct service and support, and advocating for local public health approaches to reduce gun violence.
In the past year, Davenport Bearing Witness has marked more than 75 shooting incidents where shots were fired, whether there was an injury, death or neither.
Sister Mary Bea Snyder, CHM, who began the ministry in 2003, got the idea from a book and “it lit a fire in me.” She wanted to do something meaningful every time a murder happened in Davenport. Although the ministry was small, typically a few sisters from the congregation, she tried to gather people at the site where a murder had occurred. She and others distributed fliers about Bearing Witness in the impacted neighborhood to let neighbors know what had happened and when a gathering would take place. “We would go to the neighborhood within a close distance and knock on the doors and give out the fliers,” she said.
She remembers being near 14th and Gaines streets when a woman answered the door and gave Sister Snyder “a look like, ‘what do you want?’ Her face was tight and angry. I explained what we were doing and I observed the tightness go away. She relaxed, smiled and thanked me. That left an impression with me.”
Prayer vigils were often small. As fewer sisters were able to attend the vigils and Sister Snyder’s schedule got busier, the ministry faded away. She said she talked with John DeTaeye, who now organizes Davenport Bearing Witness, to share what she had done. “He jumped on it and expanded it.”
Each vigil includes prayer as in the past. Sister Snyder said in the early 2000s they sang only on occasion. “I can’t lead a song,” she laughed. Today’s format offers song, prayer and intentions. Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, attends the vigils as his schedule allows. “I believe it is important where violence and negative energy are expounded to bring some positive energy and peaceful energy there. There is no greater power than prayer.”
Davenport Bearing Witness wants people to know that the “violence does not go unnoticed,” he said.
Sister Lynn Mousel, CHM, was not involved with the original Bearing Witness group because she was not living in Davenport at the time. She has been to several vigils with the current group.
“When I moved here and began to hear about so many episodes of gun violence, I wanted to make some kind of response. I was aware of the past Bearing Witness ministry, and am grateful for John’s organizing our gatherings and for Sister Bea and Sister Johanna’s (Rickl) participation as well.”
“I live with other CHMs in the Central City neighborhood. The gun violence has been widespread in Davenport, but frequent in our area of the city. It is very meaningful to me to gather and pray with a diverse group, and with those directly affected by the violence. In addition, the CHMs want to support responses to the gun violence which addresses the root causes, such as the serious inequities and socioeconomic disparities in our city.”
For more information about Davenport Bearing Witness, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page at Davenport Bearing Witness.