I wanted to write about this yesterday, but we had an exceptionally busy news day. The story of Fr. Greg Maturi shouldn’t be missed, however, as two murders almost on the doorstep of his St. Dominic’s Catholic Church pushed him to pursue an unusual but not unprecedented strategy to fight crime: demolition. The population of Youngstown, Ohio has dropped by almost half since the steel industry began its decline over the last few decades. That left a lot of empty, abandoned houses in the poorer areas of Youngstown, which provided a haven for almost every kind of criminal activity and gang activity one could imagine. Fr. Maturi has teamed up with Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams to remove the abandoned houses and chase the thieves, pimps, drug dealers, and murderers out of the neighborhood:

This approach is not unprecedented. Detroit has proposed doing something similar but on a much larger scale, bulldozing entire neighborhoods and encouraging small-scale agriculture in their places. That reduces the footprint needed for law enforcement and pushes the criminals out of their safe havens. In the case of Youngstown, the effort would salvage at-risk neighborhoods where the increasing crime and violence threatens to chase out the law-abiding Youngstown citizens who have remained.

Fr. Maturi has painted a big target on his back for his effort to rid the neighborhood of its plagues, but the criminals aren’t the biggest obstacle to Operation Redemption’s success. That honor belongs to the federal government:

It costs the city about $3,000 to demolish each house, and federal red tape has slowed the process. The Environmental Protection Agency has required the city to conduct asbestos abatement in many of the buildings, which the city says is prohibitively expensive.

“The EPA is worried about lead in paint. We’re worried about lead in bullets,” Maturi said. “What’s more important?”

Meanwhile, Maturi has to fight another daunting foe — hopelessness:

Surprisingly, with crime and murder happening right outside his front door, Maturi says battling the hopelessness among his parishioners and the community is his toughest fight yet.

“My biggest problem is not fear of being attacked by gangs or whatever. My biggest problem is keeping people from falling into despair and becoming cynical,” he said. “That is a tougher fight than a physical fight.”

By putting such a public face on a dangerous battle, some now fear Maturi has also made himself a target. But almost like a superhero in a comic book, Maturi quickly responded, “That may well be the case, but that’s not going to slow me down. …This is why I became a priest. This is what a priest does.”

If you’re a praying person, offer a few for Father Maturi, Mayor Williams, and especially the people of Maturi’s parish.

Update: If you’re a donating person, here’s the website for St Dominic’s.  Even if you can’t donate anything (and this is a tough time of the year), “donate” a few supportive words for Fr. Maturi and his parish.

Tags: Ohio religion