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Ministers from Protestant and Catholic churches along with Mayor Dan River and Police Chief James Fitzpatrick pose for a group photo after the press conference on August 31st. (Photo Yadira Betances)

LAWRENCE– Ministers from Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist and Protestant churches participated in a press conference on Aug. 31 at Grace Episcopal Church to talk about how the faith community can help the police department and elected officials combat the wave of violence in Lawrence.

Rev. Joel Almonó, pastor of Grace Episcopal said Mayor Dan Rivera invited clergymen to City Hall back in March so they can come up with ideas.

“As you know, the first months of the year the city was shaken to its very core by types of crimes never seen before which provoked fear and concern among residents,” said Almonó.

Almonó said the meeting between the mayor and the clergy was to brainstorm ideas and come up with actions with the goal of “how, as the body of Christ, we could contribute in finding an answer to the violence in the city.”

Using statistics from the Lawrence Police Department and other agencies, the clergy realized crime was fueled by such key points as gender violence, drugs, youth gangs and domestic violence.

After meeting several times, the 20 ministers decided that offering workshops in churches and other non-religious places would be one way to help curve violence. The participating churches will host 12 workshops until December. Two were already held focusing on youth.

Lawrence Police Chief James Fitzpatrick speaks during a press conference on how churches can help the police department and elected officials combat crime in the city. Next to Fitzpatrick is Mayor Dan Rivera and Rev. Joel Almono, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church. (Photo Yadira Betances)

“One way to prevent and find a solution is diverting youths from violence,” Almonó explained, emphasizing the need to identify previous incidents that contribute to domestic violence, overcoming domestic violence, showing residents the consequences of domestic violence, strengthening family values and how to heal child abandonment.

In addition to reaching out to the churches, the mayor said there are four gymnasiums open so youngsters can play basketball and hang out with friends. The city also recently added three new people to the anti-gang unit bringing the total to six members.

Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said these are outreach workers who were once involved in criminal activities and had since turned their lives around. They go out into the neighborhoods and identify at risk youths and offer workshops for job training. After any gang-related incidents, they go to the hospital with the victim to prevent any retaliation.

Fitzpatrick and Rivera agree the increase in violence stems from the opiate crisis across the region.

“People younger and younger are getting into the business and if they are selling, they have guns,” Fitzpatrick said, noting they range in age from 18 to 25.

Rivera mentioned the raids done by the police and other agencies between May and Aug. 24 resulted in more than 140 arrests. During the last raid, four illegal guns were taken off the streets.

“We still face a very daunting challenge,” Rivera said.

Pastor Jose Santos, who leads Ministerio Apostolico Jesucristo es el Señor with his wife Rev. Susan Santos, said churches should get involved in helping stop the violence in the city.

“It’s up to all of us because the church is like a family and violence is a problem that can affect any one in our family,” Santos said.

Father Carlos Urbina, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish is the only Catholic in the clergy group working with the police and city hall.

“We are called to advocate for peace and dignity of the people, instead of attacking each other, we should unite ourselves as the body of Christ and help with this problem that affects us all,” Urbina said.

Father Carlos Urbina, pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption Church speaks with Police Chief James Fitzpatrick following the press conference on August 31st. (Photo Yadira Betances)