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Murder in a sanctuary


This city will never become inured to violent death, and no city should; the slaying of any one of us diminishes us all. But the murder of a woman who had embraced a life of poverty and dedicated herself to helping others, who had risen to a post of leadership in her order of similarly committed nuns, leaves a particularly deep scar on this community. As Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke noted last Friday in a visit to the scene of the murder of Sister MaryAnn Glinka in a Baltimore convent, certain crimes carry with them very heavy symbolism.

Throughout history, convents and monasteries have played a special role, offering hospitality and protection to those who need it. When such a hospice becomes a murder scene, and those who would give protection and comfort become the victims, all citizens can shudder at the affront to humanity.

The crime raises a question most of us would rather not face: If a woman is not safe in a convent, where can anyone feel safe? The area just north of Memorial Stadium where the Franciscan mother house is located is not in one of the city's scarier neighborhoods, where children are prey to stray bullets on their playgrounds or even in their own homes. But no neighborhood is an island, and the convent is only a few blocks away from one of the city's open-air drug markets. It is not yet clear whether narcotics played a role in this crime, as it has in so many others in recent years. Apparently, it was enough that the convent appeared to be a soft touch to a thief.

The quick arrest of a suspect in the murder is heartening. But arrests and convictions don't halt the bloody tide. Where do residents of Baltimore -- and, increasingly, its suburbs -- look for sanctuary? In ourselves and each other, a civic leader from a community near the North Baltimore murder scene suggested. "It just seems to me that people have to change how they feel about themselves," said Gussie Tweedy, of the nearby Pen Lucy neighborhood.

Aside from the symbolism Mayor Schmoke referred to, Sister MaryAnn's death was particularly tragic. Here was a woman who had, at a time when interest is declining in religious orders, devoted her life to bettering other peoples' lives. A native of Fells Point, she chose the Franciscans over another order closer to her own heritage because she felt more comfortable with its spirituality. Priests and nuns who have served with her here and in Virginia describe a petite but vigorous woman who would have helped legions of others had she been left with us. The whole community mourns her death, along with her family, friends and colleagues in and outside the Catholic Church.

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