Cardinal George: Pray for an end to violence

By Catholic New World
Sunday, December 19, 2010

As we approach the joyous season of Christmas, it is a good time for Catholics — and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ — to take a minute and reflect upon the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us, and to remember those who have less and who may struggle more. In particular, at this time of year, we remember those who are victims of violence, whether it is street violence, racial violence, domestic violence or any other form of violence.

Violence is meant to injure and abuse another person. This intent is in direct conflict with respect for human life. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church we read, “the church proclaims ‘that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man.’” It goes on to state that “violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”

Since becoming archbishop of Chicago in 1997, Cardinal George has committed himself to promoting an end to all types of violence through support of various initiatives and programs, both inside and outside the archdiocese. He regularly writes about the need for thefaithful to work for peace.

“Everyone prays for peace,” he wrote in the Catholic New World in February of this year. “The challenge is then to work effectively to reduce violence and create peaceful homes and neighborhoods, to move from peace loving to peace making at home.”

Nicholas Lund-Molfese, director of the Office for Peace and Justice, said Cardinal George is committed to ending violence in all forms.

“The cardinal is doing it every day. We just don’t hold a press conference about it,” Lund- Molfese said.

“The form of his commitment is in the context of the Catholic faith.It’s a more Catholic, holistic sense of violence.” This sense includes violence in the home, economic violence, along with providing safe alternative schooling options for inner-city youth. “Catholic schools are one of the major ways we respond to violence,” hesaid.

Gathering leaders

This year, at the pastoral-center level, the group Catholics for Nonviolence convened and now meets regularly with the hope that by bringing together people and groups from throughout the archdiocese striving to address the issues of violence, common ground can be found and efforts strengthened.

Also on the leadership level, Cardinal George tasked the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and Women’s Committee to tackle the issues of domestic violence, violence in the community and violence in communication. The groups’ members examine what is going on around these issues in their parish communities and what can be done and then make recommendations to Cardinal George during their regular meetings with him.

The issue of violence is regularly in the news with reports of shootings, deaths or beatings, said Rita Kattner, director of the archdiocese’s Office for Councils.

“The church has to take a stance on this. And the cardinal has been very behind all of the efforts to do that,” she said.

The Women’s Committee raised the issue of domestic violence with the cardinal, Kattner said. He w as moved by what they had to share, especially when some of the women related their personal experiences with abuse.

“Under the cardinal’s encouragement, the women’s committee has really taken on the domestic violence issue,” Kattner said. “They are proposing having a parish in every vicariate be a resource group about domestic violence issues for the vicariate. They are also planning training sessions for parish volunteers and staff in how to help people who have been violated.”

On the clergy level, the cardinal invited Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis to a Presbyteral Council meeting so the priests could hear firsthand about the state of violence in the city and what the police are doing to try and curb violence. Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran also attended a Presbyteral Council meeting.

“He [the cardinal] sees it as real need, that we have to do something about violence in our communities and he supports efforts in the Catholic community to do so,” Kattner said.

Community concern

Cardinal George has also been involved in community efforts to reduce violence in the city. Since early on in his tenure as archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George has been involved with CeaseFire, a community based anti-violence program that works directly with youth to stem conflicts before they escalate into violence.

Founder and executive director Gary Slutkin said the cardinal was “instrumental” in the formation of CeaseFire, which has since become a national program with an international reach. He helped CeaseFire organize itself and introduced it to civic leaders in Chicago, Slutkin said.

“He also formed something that we called the clergy call to action, which was kicked off in 1999,” Slutkin said. “Over the course of the next five years we signed up 140 clergy leaders from around the city from every single denomination who vowed to do a number of activities, including preaching against violence.”

The cardinal also participated in several CeaseFire activities ranging from responses to shootings to speaking directly to people who areinvolved in the violence.

With the cardinal’s support, CeaseFire grew and it now works with other cities to help curb street violence.

“He believed in us, even before we had results,” Slutkin said. “Cardinal George helped the formation of something that has gone from an idea, to a piloted strategy,tohaving been proven,to now a national and global model.”

“He’s had a very big role in CeaseFire and in our efforts to savelives,”hesaid.

During this holy season, Cardinal George encourages each individual to reach out in the coming year to try to bring about a peaceful 2011. If we all join together we can reduce the violence throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago.