For someone who has devoted his life’s work to teaching the Catholic faith, the prayer service, “Celebrating the Diversity of God’s Family,” Sept. 9 at St. Clement of Rome Church in Metairie represented an extraordinary homecoming and teachable moment for Walter Bonam.
The associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, who was shot and paralyzed in a home invasion on July 6, was the honored guest at the prayer service he had helped put together with the Office of Racial Harmony weeks before his shooting.
As Bonam pushed the joystick of his motorized wheelchair and entered the church, an audible gasp emerged from the congregation, many of whom are Bonam’s coworkers and friends. Individually and in groups, they walked over to greet Bonam and his wife Jennifer before the prayer service began.
Prayer service was his
After the entrance procession, Dr. Dereck Rovaris, a close family friend, read an opening reflection that Bonam had written months before he was shot. The essay was Bonam’s perspective on the diversity of creation.
“A pithy, oft-heard saying offers the perspective that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around,” Bonam wrote. “Indeed, our world is full of evidence that you need the poet and the engineer, the 7-foot masculine center and the 5-10 point guard, the dreamer and the doer, the masculine and the feminine.
“Our gracious Creator, knowing that it truly does take all kinds, created humanity in an astonishing variety of sizes, shapes, colors, temperaments, talents and aptitudes. And after he had done so, the Lord surveyed what he had created and pronounced it very good.”
Bonam said it was human sin, not God’s design, that has managed “to make of this wondrous variety a source of division.”
“Our history and our present are replete with evidence of the damage done by the arrogance that has caused some to declare themselves and those who look like them the pinnacle of God’s creation,” Bonam wrote. “All others, along with their cultures, have thus been deemed inferior, and a system of power and privilege has been developed and maintained to reinforce this notion of superiority and inferiority.
“Our faith tells us that this was never God’s intention.”
After the prayer service, which included a reflection by Archbishop Gregory Aymond on the beauty of diversity as “the creative work of God,” Bonam said he was caught off guard by the tribute to him and his family. This was the first time Bonam had been to church since his shooting.
Archbishop Aymond said what he has termed the “New Battle of New Orleans” against violence, murder and racism can be won through prayer and Christian service.
“In 2011 we’re not fighting the British, but it is a battle,” the archbishop said. “There’s a war among us, and we must through prayer and charity fight the battle of violence and murder and racism.
“We recommit ourselves, the archdiocese and all of our parishes, to fight this battle within our own family. As some family members kill others and some shoot others and affect them for the rest of their lives, we must fight that battle, and we will, with God’s help. We pray that we will be instruments of God’s peace.”
Judge Joe Giarrusso Jr., a member of archdiocesan committee charged with implementing the pastoral letter on racial harmony written by Archbishop Alfred Hughes in 2006, said Christians need to get off the fence and invest themselves in finding a solution to racial tensions.
He likened some Catholics’ reluctance to get involved to St. Augustine’s double-minded desires to serve God but also continue to live unchastely.
“O Lord,” St. Augustine once said, “make me chaste, but not yet.”
“How often do we punctuate a promise or a resolution with the words, ‘But not yet’?” Giarrusso asked. “I should go to confession, but not yet; I should tell my spouse that I love her, but not yet; I should tell my friend that I’m sorry for hurting his feelings, but not yet.”
“And I really need to get involved with my church in addressing the evils of racism and intolerance, but not yet,” Giarrusso said. “It takes a number of ‘but not yets’ before we come to our senses. A never-ending series of these often leads to a ‘not ever.’ … Let us ask God to have the courage not just to know what the right thing to do is but to have the courage to do it.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.