I can hear the people singing in the churches as I drive down the streets of Buffalo. Angela is just entering the church and as she sees me, she shouts, "The spirit is moving, Sr. Ann, and there is no stopping us now."
It seems that there is a new hope and determination to survive and overcome the demons of poverty, crime, abuse, unemployment and other addictions. I believe it is the power of prayer. As I continue to work as a social worker, people are convincing me that Buffalo is changing for the better and is once again becoming the City of Good Neighbors. There seems to be a new energy, a life-giving force restoring hope among people, especially the poor.
I believe that the positive changes that are occurring are due to the power of prayer working through our church, civic, judicial and law-enforcement officials, in response to countless people who are praying, begging God not only to change themselves, but Buffalo, their home.
More churches are unlocking their doors, calling all people to worship. More police cars can be seen patrolling the streets. Community and church groups and block clubs are working together to improve social conditions such as blight and slum housing, and motivating the financial powers in City Hall to work on redevelopment of our inner-city and downtown areas. And, according to statistics, crime is decreasing in our city.
But what does all of this have to do with the power of prayer? Let me illustrate by telling a few stories from the lives of my clients. Only their names have been changed. As the sun rises each morning, people are gathering in churches throughout our city. As a Catholic nun, I knew this was true in Catholic churches, but I did not know of all the others.
Delilah recently told me, "We really get down, rocking with the Lord from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. each morning at Calvary Baptist Church on Genesee Street."
Delilah is a crack-cocaine addict who attributes her six months of being drug-free to attending this service and praying with other recovering addicts and those who come to support them.
"I meet people from all walks of life and social classes here," she said. "No discrimination here." Delilah walks several miles to this East Side church before going to her AA meeting and drug-treatment program. She often tells me, "No appointments with you before 9 a.m. I have to go to church first."
Sam is among the prayer warriors of New Hope Church of God in Christ on Masten Avenue, who meet each morning to pray.
Elizabeth, a stroke victim, travels several miles in her motorized wheelchair every Sunday to attend noon Mass in Holy Angels Church on the West Side.
A young man working in Family Court leaves his suburban home early in the morning to join the faithful congregation and Bishop Henry Mansell in the Lady's Chapel at St. Joseph's Cathedral, to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at a simple but beautiful liturgy at 7:30 a.m. each weekday morning.
Most of the people who attend are professional, working downtown, but not exclusively. Because this Mass is televised, countless others who are homebound, sick or elderly join in the spirit.
One woman said, "This Mass is a grace in my life. I don't know what I would do without it."
"Things were just getting so bad," Martha told me, "that we knew that we all had to come together to pray. And alleluia, praise the Lord, who is hearing our prayers and who continues to make a way for us."
Not a new phenomenon, the power of prayer, but one that is tried and true. God does not abandon his people. He continues to live among us.
SISTER ANN MARIE STRIEGL is a certified social worker for Catholic Charities.
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