Shrine to Victims of Illegally Purchased Guns Pops Up in South Philly

St. Rita's Church and the group Heeding God's Call will hold a dedication ceremony tomorrow for the mobile memorial.

Photo | Brian Thomas

Photo | Brian Thomas

Hanging on a fence around a parking lot right outside the Ellsworth-Federal stop on the Broad Street Line, more than 50 t-shirts flap in the wind. They bear the names of victims of gun violence, along with their ages and the date of their death. The memorial, organized by the neighboring National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia and a group called Heeding God’s Call, focuses specifically on those who died from illegally purchased firearms. The groups will hold a dedication ceremony on May 25th at 12:30 p.m. at the site.  

Joseph Genito, the shrine director, will be leading the dedication. He said that Heeding God’s Call’s mission fits well with the church’s values, specifically peace, reconciliation, and healing. St. Rita’s Church has been working with Heeding God’s Call since 2008 when it was founded.

“The innocent people that are being victimized are in need of healing, and reconciliation is needed between two opposing points of view,” said Genito, referring to those in favor of and opposed to gun control. That being said, the organizations do not aim to advocate for gun control, but instead to limit the sale of illegal guns. Additionally, they hope to educate citizens about methods to limit illegal gun sales. The Heeding God’s Call website lists 10 ways that gun dealers can assist in this, including videotaping sales and making sure that guns are securely stored.

Photo | Brian Thomas

Photo | Brian Thomas

The memorial, which will be up for about two weeks according to Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call, caught the attention of passers-by on Broad Street. One man hastily crossed himself as he pedaled past on his bike. Many more slowed down as they drove past to observe the memorial.

Evelyn Urquhart, a lifelong resident of South Philly and attendee of St. Rita’s Church, stopped to pay tribute as she walked by. The mother of two said that she was “sick of the violence,” especially when it involves young people. Many of the shirts were dedicated to victims younger than 30.

The dedication ceremony will begin with an acknowledgement of the victims and a blessing. “It will be mainly an acknowledgement of what’s happened to them, the people who have been affected by what has happened to them, the people who are grieving because of their loss, and an appeal on the part of the group there for a peaceful resolution to this problem,” said Genito. The ceremony will be nonspecific in terms of religion, in order to be inclusive to the variety of beliefs represented by the victims.

The memorial is mobile, and typically involves crosses planted in the ground with the shirts on them. It moves around every few weeks to different locations in the community, and is updated each year to reflect the most recent victims of violence.  In addition to Philadelphia, Heeding God’s Call also has branches in Chester and Delaware countries, Harrisburg, and the greater Washington D.C. area, according to its website.

Organizations interested in hosting a memorial can contact their local chapter through the website.

Previously: Church Erects a Cross for Each of Philly’s Gun Homicide Victims Last Year