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On a Crusade for Peace

Religion: New Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno knows the costs of violence firsthand.

April 03, 2002|TERESA WATANABE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When newly installed Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno brings his crusade against violence to a Los Angeles forum this week, he will offer more than academic knowledge about the problem's devastating impact.

As a Burbank police officer, Bruno shot and killed a man in what authorities deemed a justifiable homicide. But he says the nightmares that woke him up in tears and sweat did not go away for a year until he went to confession and completed church rituals of reconciliation.

Years earlier, as a 12-year-old boy, he says, he was brutally beaten by an older neighbor--an experience he says was so traumatic that it sent him into years of periodic therapy.

"I swore when I got to be an adult ... I would never let anyone hurt a child again,'' said Bruno, 55, who became bishop of the six-county Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in December. "I can't do it all myself, but if I teach people not to hurt one another, they'll teach others and we'll start a snowball rolling.''

Targeting youth and family violence as the first major focus of his episcopate, Bruno's campaign reflects the kinetic, hands-on approach this beefy, 6-foot-4 former football player intends to take as chief pastor to 85,000 Southland Episcopalians.

The bishop will preside over a teach-in on violence prevention Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at St. John's Church, 514 W. Adams Blvd., southwest of downtown. The forum is the last of the diocese's six regional meetings bringing together community members with experts on child abuse, gang crime, domestic violence and other specialties.

Bruno plans to take his "Hands in Healing'' program beyond the Southland. In a cross-country trek with 12 young survivors of violence, he will travel for seven weeks to several infamous places of violence.

Using the stops as occasion for community meetings and theological reflections, the group will visit places ranging from ground zero in New York City to the site where gay college student Matthew Shepard was strung to a fence and left to die in Wyoming. In the rust belt of Detroit and the bread basket of Omaha, Neb., the group will focus on the violent consequences of economic cutbacks, plant closures and family farm failures.

Two young adults who grew up under apartheid in South Africa will join the tour. So will Luis Garibay, a former gang member and drug abuser who now works as head custodian at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, a job he got through Bruno.

The national tour will climax on May 26, when Bruno is scheduled to preach on violence prevention at the National Cathedral in Washington. Diocesan officials plan to videotape all of the events and eventually craft an interactive, on-line curriculum on violence prevention.

"What I felt God calling me to do in prayer was deal with that which causes the most pain in our society. After working with gangs for 17 years, I know what that pain is," Bruno said during a recent interview at his Cathedral Center office in Echo Park. "I want to teach people to be lovers of the holy in their lives and lovers of the rest of humanity."

If a seven-week cross-country trek with young adults seems an unusual enterprise for a busy Episcopal bishop, Bruno says such personal investment of time is "what changes people."

He himself was transformed, he says, when a priest named Morrie Samuel took him to one of his first civil-rights marches in Selma, Ala., in the mid-1960s. Since then, Bruno has worked on civil-rights causes with people ranging from the late United Farm Workers chief Cesar Chavez to, more recently, hotel and restaurant workers organizing for higher wages in Santa Monica.

He has helped launch a range of entrepreneurial projects, from a program to support street vendors in MacArthur Park to a community credit union to the Cathedral Center complex itself.

A painting of a boy with large, pensive eyes, drawn by the late artist Michael Gonzalez, dominates Bruno's office. He said the first time he saw the portrait 11 years ago he saw in it himself, the 12-year-old boy who wondered why he'd been brutalized.

"The picture reminds me of the fact that every child is vulnerable,'' he said. "I'm a survivor, and I don't want any other children in this world to have to learn to be survivors too.''

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