CAMDEN — Religious and education leaders have expressed concern for the safety of the citizens of Camden if the city government goes through with its plan to drastically cut the police and fire departments.
Father Matthew J. Hillyard, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, said, “City leaders, state leaders, union leaders must get together and find ways to keep things safe in Camden and to protect the citizens. It’s up to the governor and other leaders to make sure the people are protected.”
On Dec. 4, several priests working in the city, as well as other members of Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP) held a rally on the steps of the cathedral to call on Gov. Christie to make the safety of Camden residents a priority in finding a solution to the city’s financial crisis.
Camden City is considered one of the most dangerous in the nation, with more than 30 murders so far this year.
“We are concerned about the safety of our students and our residents in their homes and on the streets,” said Anna Mae Muryasz, principal of St. Anthony of Padua School. “We insure the safety of our students through the diocese. In the end we still need police and fire protection for our students.”
St. Anthony of Padua in the Cramer Hill section of the city, with more than 160 students, is one of five Catholic schools in the city. In addition to parishes and schools, the Catholic presence in the city includes Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, the Cathedral Kitchen and several Catholic Charities facilities: St. John Prenatal Clinic; St. Luke Medical Services; Guadalupe Family Services; and Camden Center for Law and Social Justice, Immigration Services and Legal Assistance to the Poor. The chancery is also located in downtown Camden.
Msgr. Robert T. McDermott, pastor of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral, said he is concerned with the safety of Camden’s citizens “but I feel something will and must be done by city officials and by state officials to make sure the safety of all is addressed and prevails.”
Father Gerard Marable, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish, said, “Psychologically people would be less likely to get involved in activities in the evenings with fewer cops around, and the criminal element will feel a certain amount of freedom and a permissiveness to do what they want.”
Father Marable said he feels help for the city lies in the hands of President Barack Obama.
“I think the President should cut the defense budget and give money to the cities to help them,” he said. “Turn soldiers into social agents for the city. Everybody is screaming there is no money and budgets get cut right and left, but one thing that never seems to get cut is the defense budget.”