ON A COOL, windy October evening, the family of 23-year-old Dominic Amey Jr. stands outside and waits. They’re waiting for someone to tell them how and why Amey, a father of three, was shot and killed behind the house a week before. So they pray and they wait. But there aren’t any answers—at least none that night.
Joe Zelenka, a 74-year-old Catholic, wishes he had answers, but instead he offers the family what he has: prayers for peace and healing.
Zelenka has done this many times (probably too many times, if you ask him) since he began coordinating the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis’ prayer vigils for homicide victims—many killed by gun violence—nearly 11 years ago. At every vigil, standing at the scene of the crime, Zelenka reads scripture, offers a prayer, and then invites those present to pray aloud if they so choose.
“I think it’s important that we bring God’s presence where violence has occurred,” he said. The vigils pre-date Zelenka’s tenure with the Church Federation—he’s the fourth person to hold the position of vigil coordinator since January 1996, when the Church Federation began holding a prayer vigil at the site of every violent homicide in the greater Indianapolis area.
The federation’s goal is peace and reconciliation, and to that end Zelenka will hold another service—this time for the person who shot Amey. It’s important, the federation believes, to pray for both the offender and the offended. It can be demanding work, particularly in a city where homicides have dramatically increased in the last few years. But Zelenka said the work is worth it when he witnesses the faith and resilience of the victims’ families.
“The rewarding part is to realize that there are families who want to forgive the perpetrator,” he said. “Families will stand at this prayer vigil where their loved one was killed, and they will pray that the perpetrator may find God somewhere along the line.”
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