As violence increases how can we respond?

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, December 2, 2012

As violence increases how can we respond?

Amid a steady rain on Oct. 17, Father Carl Quebedeaux marched a group of more than 200 down the streets of Chicago’s Southeast Side.
Father Carl Quebedeaux, Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, leads the march in prayer. Parishioners from south side parishes walked from St. Mary Magdalene to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish on the south side during a "Pilgrimage for Peace" in the community on Oct. 17. The marchers stopped to pray at some of the places where youth and adults have been killed. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Alejandro Sanchez holds a picture up of a deceased loved one as the march stopped at the site where someone was killed. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Daniel Ramos from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish holds a sign during the march. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
(Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
(Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
(Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Amid a steady rain on Oct. 17, Father Carl Quebedeaux marched a group of more than 200 down the streets of Chicago’s Southeast Side.

Together, the group — predominantly a collection of parishioners from four South Side parishes — prayed for a more peaceful community, lit candles in memory of local residents who died as a result of violent acts and reflected on the individual and collective roles they might play in constructing peace.

At one point, the traveling group stopped at the intersection of 88th St. and Exchange Ave. — a spot dubbed “Death Corner.” There, Quebedeaux, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3200 E. 91st St., blessed the intersection and, borrowing a Native American tradition, offered prayers in all four directions.

The march then carried on, concluding with a Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe where participants made a public pledge to create peaceful environments and protect the gift of life.

“It was an effort to join in prayer, to build community and to awaken the courage to resist violence in our communities and our homes,” Quebedeaux said.

In a metropolitan area rocked by crime, local Catholics are being challenged to respond and realize their spiritual responsibility to build peace.

“There’s a tendency to grow numb and say, ‘Violence isn’t my problem,’ but this is something we’re all involved in,” Quebedeaux said.

By the time of Quebedeaux’s mid-October march, the City of Chicago was already nearing last year’s homicide tally of 433 with many city officials fearing the annual murder total would eclipse 500 for only the second time since 2004.

The Chicago area’s violent streak, however, encompasses far more than the headline-grabbing homicide totals.

From armed robberies and home invasions to child abuse and domestic incidents, violence in the Chicago area crisscrosses the area’s diverse geography, touching all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic groups and faiths. The violence claims a direct impact on the social, spiritual, economic, intellectual and physical dimensions of communities big and small.

And Catholics, many local faith leaders contend, have a role — some would even argue a leading role — in combating the grim realities.

Earlier this year, Father Michael Pfleger, pastor at St. Sabina, 1210 W. 78th Pl., was named the archdiocesan representative for newly developing anti-violence initiatives. He has consistently urged Chicago area Catholics to be “the lobbyists against violence.”

“Among all the great gifts Jesus gave us, he chose to give us the gift of peace,” Pfleger said. “Our responsibility is to share peace and lift it up.”

If Catholics disregard the responsibility and adopt apathy, Pfleger foresees a bleak future littered with unmet potential.

“Part of our Christian responsibility is to make sure that the chil dren we bring into this world are protected so that they may reach their full destiny,” Pfleger reminded.

At Holy Angels, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., students at the parish school have adopted anti-violence as their signature cause.

Back in May, students at Holy Angels joined more than 350 students from nine other South Side Catholic schools at 63rd St. Beach for an anti-violence rally.

“We want to keep kids aware of their role in this issue and help them understand that they play a part in bringing about change,” Holy Angels Deacon Leroy Gill said.

In the months since, Gill said the school’s older students have taken ownership of the issue and committed themselves to being positive, peacemaking role models for younger students. On Nov. 14, seventh and eighth graders at the school offered a presentation for students, staff and parents featuring anti-violence skits and role-playing presentations.

“For many of these older students, they’ve been affected by violence in very personal ways, so this is a way to address their pain and encourage others to reject violence in their lives,” Gill said.

Pfleger, meanwhile, continues pushing for solutions that will curb violence and promote tolerance and respect. He’s called for church-led workshops teaching conflict resolution, sponsored a petition calling for the banning of assault weapons and urged his fellow priests to preach about the need for Catholics everywhere to fill peacemaking roles.

“There’s an unraveling of society and we need to counteract this,” Pfleger said.

“Peace has to be created — that’s our job as Catholics and Christians.”

By leaning on archdiocesan resources and the more than 2 million Chicagoarea Catholics, Gill said the local church is well positioned to take a stand on violence and spur change.

“I believe that if we take the lead, others will follow,” Gill said.