Church leader seeks peaceful, respectful vigil

Jan. 17, 2014 @ 08:10 PM

One of Franciscan friars who leads Immaculate Conception Catholic Church says he told organizers of a Sunday protest march about the Jesus Huerta case not to use church property as a gathering place.

The move by the church’s associate pastor, the Rev. Bill McIntyre, was evidently meant to put space between the march and a planned “Interfaith Prayer Vigil of Peace, Unity and Reconciliation” for Huerta the church is hosting later Sunday evening.

McIntyre said he spoke with march organizer Rafael Estrada and secured a promise of cooperation.

“He assured me they will not gather in our parking lot, either before or after” the march, McIntyre said. “Some of them may attend the vigil, which they are free to do.”

The priest added that Immaculate Conception “and our partners” in the 7 p.m. vigil “are not sponsoring any other march or rally or event” on Sunday.

The church’s leaders “were not asked for or gave permission” before march organizers announced on Facebook and the Web site of the Chapel Hill-based Prison Books Collective that they intended to use its parking lot as a gathering point, he said.

The Estrada-organized march is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

McIntyre’s comments came during an interview conducted at about 2:30 p.m. on Friday.

But as of 5:40 p.m. on Friday, the march’s Facebook page and the Prison Books Collective were still advising those interesting in participating to meet in Immaculate Conception’s lot beforehand.

The march would be the third such Estrada has organized in the wake of Huerta’s death on Nov. 19, of what police say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound suffered as he sat handcuffed in the back of a Durham Police Department patrol car.

The first two, on Nov. 22 and Dec. 19, ended chaotically. The November march featured vandalism by some marchers of Police Department headquarters. Police controversially used tear gas to break up the one in December.

Police say Estrada has ties to the Occupy movement, having been arrested at one of its protests in Raleigh last year. They and protestors also have said local anarchists participated in both the November and December marches.

The vigil at Immaculate Conception, by contrast, is sponsored by an array of mainstream groups that includes the church, the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, El Centro Hispano, Durham Congregations in Action and Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods.

McIntyre said the vigil is intended to be a “prayerful and respectful” commemoration of Huerta’s life. He also said Huerta’s relatives are parishioners with longstanding ties to Immaculate Conception.

Jesus Huerta took his first communion at the West Chapel Hill Street church, and the family held his funeral there, said McIntyre, who will preside over Sunday’s vigil.

Estrada “is concerned about the issues surrounding the death of Jesus, which we all are, but that’s not the purpose of our event,” McIntyre said. “That’s for another venue or another time.”

He added that he’d also spoken a Huerta family representative, Jamie Huerta, and been told the family “is not attending the other rally or march.”

That ran counter to the march’s Facebook page, which as of Thursday had indicated that both Jamie Huerta and Evelin Huerta planned to attend the march. Jamie Huerta is Jesus Huerta’s sister-in-law; Evelin Huerta is his sister.

As of Friday evening, Evelin Huerta was still listed as an intended march participant on its Facebook page. Jamie Huerta’s name, however, no longer appeared on the page.