We hear about them far too often, Take Back the Site vigils. It seems like there is one almost every month or so for a homicide victim. But what exactly are they?

The goal is to what their names says, take back the site. These vigils started in 1999 after a five-year-old girl was murdered, and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA decided to take a stance against violence and promote peace and healing.

“It is not about making judgments of people but in fact trying to reclaim, for our city, some place where violence has occurred to nonviolence, or back to peace. And that’s why it’s called ‘take back the site.’ The site of where a murder or homicide is committed is committed, we take that back, reclaim it for nonviolence, for peace, for the neighborhood, for the people involved, but for the whole city. And in doing so, our hope is we are also committing ourselves to work for peace in our city. To work so this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen in our city and be a witness to that,” said Sister Mary Ellen Plumb of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA.

The victim is not the only affected by the violence. It’s a ripple effect with family and community members feeling the pain and needing healing.

“These events are helpful to the families in that it gives them a platform to begin healing. This is what they’ve told us. They’ve come back and said ‘The Take Back the Site vigil allowed us to find a place where we could start to heal and we could start to move forward.’ And I’m seeing that throughout the community as well. We are building community; community is coming together,” remarked Betsy Wiest, social justice coordinator, SSJ.

The Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA share service duties with the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Sisters of Mercy. Though affiliated with the Catholic Church, all religious faiths and beliefs are welcome to pray and promote peace at these vigils.

The vigils are there to help heal and take place about three to four weeks after a homicide.

“It is a beginning for them to realize ‘Okay I can begin to move forward.” With the community, we’re seeing them come together. I have seen whole neighborhoods coming together at vigils to really reclaim and to really build community in an effort to say ‘this is our neighborhood. We are reclaiming this. This is a sacred spot for us,'” said Wiest.

Tonight’s vigil marks the first of 2020 and the 128th since these started in 1999. The Benedictine sisters hope it is the last and that peace will reign.