Just before 8 a.m. March 22, nine men and women gathered outside St. Olaf in Minneapolis in a garden dedicated to St. Francis to pray that saint’s famous prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. …”
A small, ever-changing group has been gathering for the short and simple prayer on weekdays since March 8, the day before jury selection began for the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with murder in last year’s death of George Floyd.
St. Olaf’s 8 a.m. prayer meeting — and a 3 p.m. Divine Mercy Chaplet also offered every weekday — are small but significant ways the parish is responding to the trial-related tension in Minneapolis and St. Paul, said St. Olaf’s pastor, Father Kevin Kenney. In late February, he asked parishioners to pray a daily rosary for the city, “just to keep the calm,” but as jury selection got underway, he wanted to offer something more, even at a time when parish events are minimal, due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re here in the heart of it,” he said, noting that the parish is just blocks from the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial’s opening statements are scheduled for March 29. The church is open but prepared to board its windows if necessary. Throughout downtown Minneapolis, other buildings are protected with barricades and boards. The city just passed an ordinance allowing property owners to install retractable metal shutters and roll-up gates in anticipation of trial-related violence.
Amid fear of the unknown, Father Kenney has found praying the Prayer of St. Francis slowly and deliberately has been powerful, especially the opening line.
“Just ‘make me an instrument of your peace,’ because the anxiety and the tension are just so strong that it’s like, OK, how can I be an instrument of peace?’” he said.