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 CNS Story:

THUGS Nov-25-2009 (460 words) xxxn

Detroit parish to offer gun buyback, Advent services for 'thugs'

By Jared Field
Catholic News Service

DETROIT (CNS) -- When Father Theodore Parker started thinking about how he could celebrate Advent differently at St. Cecilia Parish in Detroit this year, he didn't think he would have to quell the fears of his parishioners.

But how would his so-called "Thug Sundays" strike you upon first reference?

"At first they were kind of taken aback by the term," said Father Parker, who recently heard about a similar service aimed at personal reconciliation performed recently at a church in suburban Macomb County. "But I explained the fact that we're not asking people to come to church with guns blazing."

The concept is a simple one: Forgiveness and healing is for everyone, for "thugs" and "thugettes" alike.

Father Parker said inner-city communities, like those in Detroit, need reconciliation on a very personal level, and that people who are hurting often lash out in desperation.

"Around us there's basically a sense of hopelessness oftentimes," he told The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese. "People don't have jobs. They're angry, angry at their situation ... angry when they're not able to improve their lives. It's just this violence that goes on and it has to stop somewhere."

Prior to the four "Thug" Sundays of Advent, beginning Nov. 29, St. Cecilia was to sponsor a communitywide gun buyback program Nov. 28. Last spring, when the parish, assisted by police, hosted a similar event, more than 100 guns were taken off the street.

"All these guns do no more than aggravate the problems in the city," said Father Parker, a former prison chaplain in New York. "People do resort to guns because of the anger and the emotion of the moment. We thought it would be a good way to extend our reach."

Themes have been chosen for each Sunday Mass: "Making Room for God in Your Life," "How to Prepare Oneself to Prepare for Jesus," "Choosing to Live in Hope" and "Be Surprised by Joy."

Father Parker, who also is the pastor at St. Leo Parish in Detroit, says he's witnessed the continued decline of morality in the "hip-hop" culture of the inner city.

"It seems to be a culture that has flat-lined morally," he said. "Basically (the culture) is about what you can get, when you can get it."

Father Parker said the Advent services are a way of casting a net into the community, letting people know that there are people who care.

"If you're trying to find God in your life ... we want to welcome you, get to know you and become friends with you," he said.


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