Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

"Like sheep without a shepherd"

July 29, 2012

Each summer we follow the statistics on street violence, including killings in Chicago. This summer, the news of the killings in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., have brought additional shock. We have grown used to patterns of violence and, when incidents occur, there is an almost scripted response on the part of government officials and the media.

This past Sunday, the Gospel reading from St. Mark for the 16th Sunday in the ordinary time of the liturgical year comments on Jesus’ reaction when he looked at the crowd of people who had followed him and his apostles to an isolated place: “When he…saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Sheep without a shepherd scatter in all directions and are easily both perpetrators and victims of violence. Because the sheep in the Gospel are human beings, men and women and children, Jesus’ response was to teach them.

The official responses to violence are external: more police patrols and protection, curfews and other legal prescriptions on behavior, the control and even banning of weapons, recreational and other programs to direct energies away from violence. The church’s response has been more complex and personal. For the past several summers, many parish churches have opened their facilities to young people from all neighborhoods, and the archdiocese has multiplied initiatives to respond to violence. “Catholics for Nonviolence: fostering the way of Gospel nonviolence; archdiocesan- wide and parish-deep” was begun by a group of pastoral center employees and other Catholics as an umbrella group that creates and sponsors many initiatives. The contact person is Carol Walters, who is the Archdiocesan Director of Lay Ministries.

“Catholics for Non-Violence” connects to the domestic violence programs inspired and directed by Dominican Chuck Dahm at St. Pius V Parish on Ashland Avenue. The Archdiocesan Women’s Committee pointed out a few years ago that young people are violent on the street because they learned to be violent in the home. Since domestic violence travels across all class and ethnic boundaries, there are now a number of parishes in each vicariate providing services for the abused and the abuser. Catholic Charities has assigned counselors for these parish based centers. “Catholics for Non-Violence” also reaches out with programs for parenting for non-violence. The contact person is Teresa Pennix-Gill ([email protected]). She can put volunteers to work in various programs for families.

Teresa is the wife of Deacon Leroy Gill who, along with a number of African American deacons, sponsors outdoor prayer services to pray for peace in our hearts, in our families and our schools and on the streets. Six back-toschool sunrise prayer services are scheduled in different locations on Aug. 25. Locations and information can be obtained from the Office for Deacons. The deacons of the archdiocese also offer housing for men who would otherwise be on the streets, and have helped men to learn non-violent and productive ways of living.

The Office of Catholic Schools has developed “tool kits” to address bullying and other behaviors that can lead to violence. Shawnte Jenkins (sjenkins@ is at work with officials of the Chicago Public Schools so that Catholic high schools and public high schools in similar neighborhoods can share in mentoring programs for their students. Peer mentoring and safe havens are needed in both the government schools and ours. Developing gardens on the grounds of schools is an initiative that seems to direct energies in useful ways, and the Archdiocesan Healing Garden on Roosevelt Road is becoming a center for non-violence education. Father Michael Pfleger has cooperated with public officials for many years to bring religious resources to civic initiatives to reduce violence.

The Franciscan Friars have also begun a program that is community oriented, using parishes as bases for changing neighborhoods. It has offered programming in only four parishes so far, but it promises much for the future. The Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service is located at 4340 N. Marmora Ave., Chicago, IL 60634 ([email protected]). The Precious Blood Fathers have created systems that strengthen reconciliation and reduce violence. These and so many other initiatives are rooted in the faith that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth and his disciples are therefore responsible for fostering the peace that is the gift of the risen Lord.

Our brothers and sisters among our ecumenical partners are also working for peace. The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (1143 South Plymouth Court, Suite 507; Chicago, IL 60605) is sponsoring a “peace weekend” on July 27-29. The council is reaching out again to Ceasefire, a group I have been associated with for sometime but, unfortunately, have not worked with very closely in recent years. In the right circumstances, it also contributes to preventing violence in troubled neighborhoods.

Reviewing some of the church-based responses to violence and planning others inevitably leads to the question: Why? The causes of violence are many, but it is, I believe, both too easy and inaccurate to point to economic causes. Most poor people are not violent. Nor does ideological commitment necessarily lead to violence. Most causes are defended without killing those who disagree. The violence that seeks today only to destroy, seemingly without rhyme or reason, the killing that seems to be for its own sake exposes a society that cannot hold its members together in a common purpose pursuing a common good.

Recently I heard one local TV commentator try unsuccessfully to suggest that all the laws and external programs in the world couldn’t replace the internal discipline one learns in family life. The family is the first and irreplaceable agent of socializing children. Without families, all of us would be like sheep without a shepherd. So many forces are in play to destroy what has been normal family life for many thousands of years that any family based response to endemic violence will be automatically written off. There is, however, a correlation between our terrible family statistics and our horrendous social statistics. In families, women civilize men, and mothers and fathers together teach their children to live with others in society. Since families are being re-defined and coming more and more undone, aggravated violence will likely be with us for some time to come.

Those who recognize God as creator of the world know that life is violent when it is unconnected with God, when people deliberately live outside of his family. The mystery of evil entered the world when men and women lost God’s friendship. The entire human race then became “sheep without a shepherd.” Prayer to Christ, the Good Shepherd, is therefore central to any serious response to violence. Christ’s love for all whom he suffered violence to redeem is the glue that keeps us together. It is the reason so many of our brothers and sisters are working together to address the violence that kills many and leaves others with lives diminished by fear. In teaching the truth about God’s love for us, the church is responding to lost crowds as Jesus did.