On August 15, after a particularly violent weekend in Chicago, when 52 people were shot and nine killed, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference, “There is no other way to describe it. I’m just sick of it.” Being sick of it did not stop it. The following weekend 47 people were wounded and 7 killed. More than two dozen children under the age of 13 have been shot in Chicago this year. And we know that the shootings are just part of the story. Distrust of the police in the black community has boiled over several times this summer, and, under greater scrutiny, police wonder who will listen to their side of the story. Throw into the mix some folks who like to show up when things get hot and stir the pot, and the cycle of violence and grief and blame shows no sign of subsiding.
The story of how we got to this point is long and complex; but all of us, in whatever neighborhood we live, ought to be asking, “What can I do?” One answer might be, “Have you tried prayer?” At first it may seem that prayer is not doing anything to stop the violence or insure justice for all. But the underlying causes of violence are not just sociological or economic. They are also spiritual. They relate to our ability to recognize one another as children of God and children of the same God—which is what we shall always be regardless of what we have done, what we have been taught, or how we have been corrupted. Prayer keeps us from becoming too cynical about life. It opens us to the pain of others; and in that openness we are led to further action. The late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once wrote that the invocation “Lord, have mercy” is not a defeatist statement but a prayer of great optimism. It affirms that God’s mercy is possible. If forgiveness and inner healing were not possible, there would be no reason to say, “Lord, have mercy!”
In light of the violence and racial tension throughout our country, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited all dioceses in the United States to unite in a Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities on Friday September 9, the Feast of St. Peter Claver. St. Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit missionary to South America in the seventeenth century. He spent his entire priesthood in Cartegena in what is now Colombia. Cartegena was the major port of entry for African slaves and a hub of the slave trade. He would meet the slave ships as they arrived, offering small gifts of comfort, visiting with the captives, and assisting those who were ill (Because of the conditions on the slave ships, about a third died on the way to America). To those who were open, he told them about Christ and baptized many of them. It is said that he touched the lives of 300,000 slaves during his 40 years in Cartegena. He also spoke publicly against the institution of slavery.
The Archdiocese of Chicago is holding a special Vigil Service for peace in our communities on Thursday evening September 8 at 7:00pm at Holy Name Cathedral. Our two Masses on September 9 will include a special litany and prayers of intercession for “peace in the face of tragedy.” We will also include a prayer to St. Peregrine, whose shrine is on the east side of our church. St. Peregrine is best known as the patron of those living with cancer. As a young man, however, he was anything but a saint. He was a member of what we would now consider a street gang in fourteenth century Forli, Italy. Through the forgiveness of another Servite friar, St. Philip Benizi, he was able to leave his life of violence behind and become an instrument of peace and healing himself. So, St. Peregrine is also considered the patron saint of youth at risk.
If participating in the vigil service at the
Cathedral or coming to Mass on Friday does not work for you,
consider setting aside some time for prayer at home on
Friday. When a group of churches on the far south side
prayed together for Easter Sunday to be a day without any
killings in our city, we actually had an Easter Sunday
without any killings. Maybe God was trying to tell us