Chicago Catholics Challenged to Become 'Lobbyists for Peace'

More than 200 children and adults gathered on a street corner on Chicago’s South Side on Nov. 30 to pray for peace on their streets. Earlier that week, shots rang out at nearby St. Columbanus Church following the funeral of a reputed gang member. One man was killed and another injured in the shooting. Catholic and other Christian pastors organized the prayer service, march and concert because the man whose funeral the mourners were attending was a member of their community and was himself struck down violently.

Eleven more shootings occurred on the evening of Dec. 3 and into the next morning. So far in 2012, homicides in Chicago have risen to 480, a 21 percent increase from 2011’s 398 homicides. If the trend continues, this year the city will likely exceed 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. In a metropolitan area rocked by crime, Chicago-area Catholics are being challenged to respond.

The metro area’s streak of violence, however, encompasses far more than the headline-grabbing homicide totals. From armed robberies and home invasions to child abuse and domestic assaults, violence in Chicago touches all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic groups and faiths, affecting all facets of community and family life. Catholics, many local faith leaders contend, should have a leading role in combating the grim realities of urban violence.

Earlier this year, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Parish, was named the archdiocesan representative for newly developing anti-violence initiatives. He has consistently urged Chicago-area Catholics to be “lobbyists against violence.”

“Among all the great gifts Jesus gave us, he chose to give us the gift of peace,” Father Pfleger said. “Our responsibility is to share peace and lift it up.”

Last October, in a steady rain, Carl Quebedeaux, C.M.F., marched a group of more than 200 people down the streets of Chicago’s Southeast Side. Together, the group—predominantly parishioners from four South Side parishes—prayed for a more peaceful community, lit candles in memory of neighbors who had died as a result of violent acts and reflected on the individual and collective roles they might play in constructing peace.

The traveling group stopped at an intersection dubbed “Death Corner.” There Father Quebedeaux, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, blessed the intersection and, borrowing a Native American tradition, offered prayers in four directions. The march then carried on, concluding with a Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where participants made a public pledge to create peaceful environments and protect the gift of life.

“It was an effort to join in prayer, to build community and to awaken the courage to resist violence in our communities and our homes,” Father Quebedeaux said. “There’s a tendency to grow numb and say, ‘Violence isn’t my problem,’ but this is something we’re all involved in.”

Father Pfleger, meanwhile, continues pushing for solutions that will curb violence and promote tolerance and respect. He has called for church-led workshops teaching conflict resolution, sponsored a petition calling for the banning of assault weapons and urged his fellow priests to preach about the need for Catholics to fill peacemaking roles.

“There’s an unraveling of society and we need to counteract this,” Father Pfleger said. “Peace has to be created—that’s our job as Catholics and Christians.”

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Activists rally outside U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26 after the court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., which sued after being denied a state grant for creating a safer playground (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters). 
The Supreme Court court ruled on June 26 that the government may not exclude religious groups from grant programs simply because they are religious.
Ellen K. BoegelJune 27, 2017
Pope Francis laughs as he greets a woman during an audience with people from Lyon, France, in Paul VI hall at the Vatican July 6. The audience was with 200 people living in difficult or precarious situations. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The pope's words can be read as an answer to those who hope his pontificate may end soon.
Gerard O'ConnellJune 27, 2017
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure would leave 22 million more people without insurance.
Pilgrims kneeling before shrine of our Lady of Lourdes. Wellcome Images
Carrie Gress is the author of "The Marian Option: God's Solution to a Civilization in Crisis."
Sean Salai, S.J.June 26, 2017