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Archdiocese prays for 58-year-old violence victim, perpetrator, community

February 20, 2015
Christina Gray

‘We acknowledge this horrendous act … that we as disciples of Jesus Christ have to address in a nonviolent way’

Franciscan Father Tommy King, pastor of St. Boniface Catholic Church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, led a public prayer service at the corner of Mission and 11th streets Feb. 13 to honor the life of a Vallejo man whose dismembered body was found in a suitcase at the same location Jan. 28.

The 15-minute service attended mostly by archdiocesan clergy and staff and reporters following the sensational case watched as Father King lit a candle bearing the name of 58-year-old Omar Shahwan.

“We acknowledge this horrendous act that has become a symbol of chaos in our neighborhoods that we as disciples of Jesus Christ have to address in a non-violent way,” said Father King as he sprinkled holy water around the candle. “We hope and pray and are confident that Omar has found rest in God.”

Franciscan Father Jose Luis Nerio, chaplain for St. Anthony Foundation, attended with other St. Anthony’s members. St. Boniface sacristan Paul Barrett led readings that included St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace.

San Francisco Police Deputy Monica MacDonald told Catholic San Francisco that the medical examiner confirmed Shahwan’s identity Feb. 11 through DNA testing of the remains found in the suitcase, which did not include his head or hands.

She said the investigation is ongoing about the “cause and manner of death” despite the death of friend and former roommate Mark Jeffrey Andrus, 59, who was arrested after surveillance video showed him carrying a suitcase in the area where the remains were dumped.

The district attorney released Andrus Feb. 3 due to “insufficient evidence” but he died suddenly Feb. 7.

The archdiocese’s restorative justice ministry, a program of the Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns, plans and publicizes public prayer services when a person is killed in violence within the archdiocese. To date the program has held more than 250 prayer services, usually led by the pastor of the parish nearest the scene of the crime, though often attended spontaneously by San Francisco’s auxiliary bishops and even Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone.

Jaime Gonzales, a program volunteer who works with inmates at the San Francisco County jail in San Bruno, explained that when a murder such as this one happens, the whole community is affected.

“As Catholics, we pray for the victim, we pray for family members and we pray to push out the negativity of what just happened in a holy way,” he said.

Julio Escobar, coordinator of the program told the group that his mission is to help prevent the kind of violence that he saw growing up in El Salvador during the Central American nation’s civil war.

“We do not have a violence problem in San Francisco,” he said. “We have a relationship problem.”

Gonzales added that he also wanted to pray for the perpetrator of the crime.

“If he sees this on television, even he has the assurance of our Lord Jesus Christ’s mercy if he were to repent. God’ love is limitless,” he said.

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