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April 4, 2017

Cardinal Cupich announces new anti-violence initiatives, donates $250,000 for peace fund

By Joyce Duriga


Cardinal Blase Cupich reads a letter from Pope Francis to the people of Chicago after announcing an anti-violence initiative to increase the capacity and reach of current programs that address the root causes of violence. The announcement took place during a press conference April 4 at the Peace Corner Youth Center in the city's Austin neighborhood. The archdiocese is also starting the Peace Venture Philanthropy Fund to invest in new anti-violence programs. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Father Scott Donahue, president and CEO of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and Msgr. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Chicago, listen as Cardinal Cupich announces an anti-violence initiative during a press conference April 4 at the Peace Corner Youth Center in the city’s Austin neighborhood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Cardinal Cupich sorts through his papers during the press conference April 4 at the Peace Corner Youth Center in the city's Austin neighborhood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Cardinal Cupich and Peace Corner director Drew Hines listen to speakers at the press conference. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Msgr. Boland addresses the media during the press conference. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Father Scott Donahue, president and CEO of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, speak at the press conference April 4 at the Peace Corner Youth Center in the city's Austin neighborhood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Cardinal Cupich answers questions from news media about the initiatives. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

On the 49th anniversary of the death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Cardinal Cupich announced a new initiative to increase the work of current anti-violence programs in parishes and schools and those run by Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Catholic Charities and Kolbe House, the archdiocese’s jail ministry. The archdiocese will also seek out partnerships to increase programs that will help break the cycle of violence.

With a $250,000 personal donation, Cardinal Cupich also announced the creation of the Instruments of Peace Venture Philanthropy Fund that will provide funds for both new and existing neighborhood-based anti-violence programs. The money comes from donations he’s received to aid his personal charitable efforts.

In 2018, the archdiocese will also hold the first U.S. meeting of Scholas Occurrentes, a program active in 100 countries that brings young people together to meet and problem solve. The gathering will involve young people from Cook and Lake counties. 

These announcements were made during a press conference at the Peace Corner Youth Center, 5022 W. Madison, which serves young people in Chicago’s violence-prone Austin neighborhood. As of April 5, 773 people were shot in Chicago in 2017 and there were 151 homicides, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Cardinal Cupich also invited people to join him on a Walk for Peace through the city’s Englewood neighborhood on Good Friday. Like Austin, Englewood is a neighborhood that sees frequent shootings and crime. During the walk, participants will take part in the Stations of the Cross and pause along the way to remember those who died by violence. Along the route, participants will read the names of those killed in Chicago since January.

The cardinal said he shared these plans with Pope Francis when he met him in Rome recently. Pope Francis was moved by the news and drafted a letter to the people of Chicago, which the cardinal read at the press conference.

“I assure you of my support for the commitment you and many other local leaders are making to promote nonviolence as a way of life and a path to people in Chicago,” the letter stated.

The pope said he will be praying for those who will participate in the Good Friday walk.

“As I make my own Way of the Cross in Rome that day, I will accompany you in prayer, as well as all those who walk with you and who have suffered violence in the city,” the letter said.

These announcements follow a yearlong process Cardinal Cupich initiated to learn about the scope of anti-violence programs already going on in the archdiocese.

While no program will completely eradicate violence from the city, the cardinal said, “just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something. It’s going to take one person at a time.”  

During his process of learning about the efforts in the archdiocese, Cardinal Cupich said he heard of many ways parishes and groups want to respond but lack the funding to do more. The Instruments of Peace Venture Philanthropy Fund is for them.

“I see this as seed money for these local initiatives,” he said. “There really is no niche fund to support their efforts.”

He stressed the need for partnerships in these efforts.

“I can’t do it alone. I need the help of others,” Cardinal Cupich said.

For Palm Sunday, Cardinal Cupich provided homily notes to all pastors that discuss the need for all people of God to respond to the violence plaguing the city. Pastors were also give petitions to pray during Mass that focus on anti-violence themes such as praying for victims, perpetrators and local and national leaders.

Father Scott Donahue, executive director of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, also addressed reporters at the press conference and announced another new initiative. For 130 years, Mercy Home has cared for abused and neglected children.

Mercy Home uses the Becoming A Man and Working on Womanhood programs run by Chicago's Youth Guidance that help at-risk youth overcome obstacles and succeed in school and life. Donahue announced that the archdiocese will work with Youth Guidance to develop similar parish-based programs for youth.

“The only way to break this cycle of violence is by reaching out and saving one life at a time,” Donahue said. “They [the youth] cannot reject violence if that is the only thing they know.”

Cardinal Cupich agreed.

“These kids are not born bad,” he said. “They are kids who didn’t see another path forward.”

Expanding existing programs, creating new ones

The Archdiocese’s anti-violence efforts include the expansion and creation of peace programs, carried out with the involvement and funding of partners, specifically:

  • Revitalizing the Catholic Youth Organization, an archdiocese-wide youth sports initiative that has historically opened the eyes and hearts of young people by providing opportunities for cross-racial interaction.
  • Adding a robust anti-racism component to the religious education conducted in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s 217 Catholic schools, as well as parish-based religious education programs.
  • Participating in an expanded round of On the Table talks within our parishes exploring topics including the impact of racism on our communities.
  • Increasing our charitable presence in affected neighborhoods. An illustration of this in action can be seen in the Austin neighborhood. The Austin Bank Corporation recently donated to Catholic Charities its flagship building on Lake Street. In the new space, Catholic Charities plans to provide social services, including counseling, job training and placement, a senior center and a food pantry.
  • Mentoring young people through the difficult transition to adulthood, by conducting the proven Becoming a Man and Working on Womanhood programs in our parishes.
  • Expanding the parish-based, successful Strong Futures program that works with male ex-offenders to offer them residential stability and prepare them for and place them in employment. Through the Strong Futures program at St. Sabina Parish, as of February 2017, 22 of the 50 men who started with the program in July 2016 had full time jobs, 12 had part time jobs and five men had internships. This is the best success rate in the country for such an effort.
  • Providing opportunities for young people to hope and dream together beyond the boundaries of their current circumstances through the Scholas Occurrentes World Citizenship program. The Scholas program, now active in more than 100 countries, brings young people together for a week of encounter, discussion and problem-solving. The participants will be chosen from schools throughout the two-county archdiocese area. Pope Francis is personally supportive of this effort and has given it the status of a papal foundation.
  • Expanding the anti-gang Peacemakers on the Street initiative in which former gang members do direct intervention by reaching out to current gang members and community members on the South and West sides. The Peacemakers initiative at St. Sabina Parish has already brought six gangs together to begin to talk with each other as well as with 6th District police officers.
  • Providing hundreds of summer jobs for youth in our Catholic parishes, Catholic Charities and other agencies.
  • Expanding awareness of and offerings at Kolbe House at Assumption BVM, a parish-based jail ministry that serves as a sanctuary for those affected by incarceration. Kolbe House seeks hope and reconciliation through outreach, support, education and accompaniment.
  • Replicating the successful community Restorative Justice Hub (RJ Hub) model. RJ Hubs are safe spaces in a community where youth are welcomed and supported in building healthy relationships, expressing themselves, addressing trauma and developing necessary skills and competencies. This model has been successful in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, helping bridge the many social barriers in place.

For more information on the archdiocese’s anti-violence initiative and to donate to the Instruments of Peace Venture Philanthropic Fund, visit