Catholics ‘declare war’ on violence through prayer

By Patrick Butler | Contributor
Sunday, February 27, 2011

About 100 mostly Catholic South Side residents told Satan they’ve had it with him and formally “declared war” on what Deacon LeRoy Gill Jr. called “all this violence, all this hate, the proliferation of guns in our community and the political rhetoric that embraces hate.”

Gill’s spiritual call to arms came during a Feb. 11 “Healing The Land” prayer service at Visitation/St. Basil Church, 901 W. Garfield. Gill and other speakers including Bishop Joseph Perry, Father Paul Whittington and Mary Norfleet-Johnson, director of the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics.

Warning “there’s no going AWOL if you’re a Christian,” Gill urged the “prayer warriors”’ in the pews to storm heaven with their prayers for peace, not only throughout the nation and the world, but especially in Chicago communities afflicted by violence.

“Young people are giving up. They have no guidance, no love, no Jesus. I’m tired of the Devil stealing from us. The battle is on. We’re here tonight to declare war” on the powers of hell. “It just doesn’t get any clearer than that,” Gill said.

“Prayer is free, but life is priceless,” explained Johnson before the nearly twohour, high-octane service that included praise dancers from Christ the King High School, and Gospel hymns by the Visitation/ St. Basil and Office for Black Catholics choirs, as well as a rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung to the tune of “Danny Boy,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Johnson and Gill said they plan to continue prayer services for three months at a different church in the black community

“Actually, all this started back in August with a series of sunrise services at five beaches,” said Gill, who said he got involved in the prayer services when a student at Holy Angels School and the brother of another Holy Angels student was murdered.

The prayer services, Gill added, also led to creation of Catholics for Non-Violence which is now working to defuse tension on the streets.

At this point, any peacemaking initiatives couldn’t come a moment too soon, several said.

“We’ve got to realize we’ve lost our sense of belonging, our sense of connectedness,” Father Whittington said.

The “Healing the Land” services “are certainly making all of us think about what we can do back in our parishes. Things like abandoned homes, unemployment. Other things we should be doing for the youth in our midst,” said Father Jim Flynn of Holy Name of Mary Church.

Bishop Joseph Perry believes peace can be contagious if lay Catholics become more active in their communities as a result of the spiritual and social activism triggered by these services.

“Many of the people (who came to Visitation/St. Basil) are very faithful Catholics and they have attended many of our other prayer services on this particular theme. So they came here to be fed consistently for what they do best — which is to be good Christians and peacemakers in the world,” Bishop Perry said.

And one way to start, he added, would be to have elected officials at all levels get serious about gun control.

“I think our political leadership can do a lot better in that regard,” said Bishop Perry, acknowledging that “holding guns appears to be one of the democratic rights in our society. But I don’t think they realize how many people suffer because of that right. I think it can be reworked or curtailed so the wrong people will not have them in their possession.”