Take Back the Site
June 10, 2014
By Sister Pierre D.
In 1999, after the brutal murder of a 5-year-old girl, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, started a ministry called Take Back the Site. Their mission was to bring God’s peace and comfort to the victim’s family and friends; to restore God’s peace to the place where violence has taken place; and to put forth a message of nonviolence to the community.
Today, the program has grown to include sponsorship from the Sisters of Mercy—New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania as well.
When a murder occurs in Erie, the leader from one of these three religious communities first speaks to the family of the victim to offer comfort and support. They also help to arrange a gathering at the site where the violence took place. We invite people in the community and the media because we want to raise awareness, especially among teens and young adults, that violence is wrong and has serious results. We want young people to know that God is there for everyone; we must turn to Him, and not to violence, in our times of need.
At the gatherings, we first have a reading from Scripture, then a sister or minister will offer words of comfort to the victim’s family. Afterwards, we sing “Amazing Grace” and “This is Holy Ground.” While singing, one of the sisters will sprinkle the ground with water as a symbol of God’s reclaiming a spot violated by murder. We pray not only for the victim, but also for the person who has committed the act of violence and their loved ones as well. After the prayer service, sometimes attendees will express words of comfort to the victim’s family and friends.
There has been a decrease in the number of violent murders here. Since January this year we have only held three gatherings, which is much less than we’ve had in the past. We pray we don’t need to hold any more; we pray, too, for a greater regard for life and a more peaceful resolution to violence and anger. We hope through our efforts and prayers, God will bring grace upon the Erie and its people and help the Holy Spirit to make people aware of the wrongs being done by violence.