Encouraging young adults to be agents for peace

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Saturday, February 11, 2017

Encouraging young adults to be agents for peace

Father Gary Graf assists Sabastian Valdes while he works with colored pencils during a night of art as part of the Parish Peace Project at Providence of God on Jan 20. Rooted in Catholic social teaching, the mission of the PPP is to combine ministry, community organizing and restorative justice as an alternative to violence for youth and young adults in Chicago. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Artist Robert Valadez shows a technique to Jeymy Rocha and Victor Arias during a painting class as part of the Parish Peace Project. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Artists clean their brushes while working on a community mural at Providence of God Church on Jan. 20. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A sign invites passers by to attend a night of art at Providence of God Church on Jan. 20. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yazmin Saldivar from St. John Bosco Parish paints during class. Rooted in Catholic social teaching, the mission of the Parish Peace Project is to combine ministry, community organizing and restorative justice as an alternative to violence for youth and young adults in Chicago. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Brothers Pablo and Rafael Valdes contribute to a mural. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Lois Aguirre and her guest Adaleine color a butterfly during the art class. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bruno Hernandez, left, president of the initiative talks with a participant on Jan 20. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

On the night of Jan. 20, members of Catholic parishes in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and the Southwest Side gathered at Providence of God Parish, 717 W. 18th St., to work together on a mural of monarch butterflies.

The monarch, explained Fernando Rayas, executive director of the Parish Peace Project, is a potent symbol for Mexican immigrants and Mexican migrants. Many of the butterflies migrate each winter to a forest in Michoacan, Mexico, and travel north each summer.

The Parish Peace Project is a multi-parish effort on the Southwest Side and in Pilsen that aims to develop young-adult lay leaders and engage them in bringing peace to their communities using the principles of Catholic social teaching and restorative justice. It worked with Chicago artist Robert Valadez to set up the monarch mural.

“There is a metaphor of migration and freedom in these butterflies,” Rayas said. “When we come here [to the United States] we’re looking for a better life.”

“With all the political tension, this was a good way for us to come together,” said Bruno Hernandez, president of the Parish Peace Project, said about the mural event. “We said, ‘Let’s set up a space where we can be in community.’”

The Parish Peace project was founded about three years ago as a collaborative effort among five Southwest Side parishes: St. Gall, 5511 S. Sawyer Ave.; St. Rita of Cascia, 6243 S. Fairfield Ave.; St. Clare of Montefalco, 2640 W. 55th St.; and St. Joseph, 4821 S. Hermitage Ave. Father Gary Graf, former pastor of St. Gall and now pastor of St. Procopius, was instrumental in forming the project.

“It really began with the demand for young-adult leadership,” Hernandez said.

“Father Gary Graf was really concerned about the situation with young people, where for a lot of them, [the sacrament of] confirmation was like their graduation from the church,” said Rayas, executive director of Parish Peace Project. “How do you make the church more relevant for young people?”

So the group got to work with a mission based around faith, culture, identity and transformation. With funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the national anti-poverty campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it has worked on improving relationships between residents and police in the area around the parishes and reclaiming public spaces so that people can be safe.

Those efforts included a basketball game between young adults and police officers at St. Joseph Parish, and a block party in front of St. Rita Parish this past summer.

“A lot of people told us they hadn’t had a block party in 20 years or more,” Hernandez said. “There’s this view that if we just huddle up inside, what happens outside isn’t our problem, but it is. This is our neighborhood and we deserve a block party, and not just every 20 years.”

The Parish Peace Project also has created Theology on Tap events that offer a “profound reflection on Catholic social teaching,” Rayas said, and leaders are already planning for this summer’s talks.

From the beginning, Rayas said, the group wanted to start a young-adult lay apostolate. They imagine that young adults committed to the apostolate would live in community for a year while learning about pastoral ministry and Catholic social teaching. Each of them would also work in a Southwest Side parish affected by violence, forming a group of young adults to carry out the work in their own parishes.

But their hopes were stymied by the lack of a building and a lack of money.

When Graf became pastor of St. Procopius Parish the project expanded to Pilsen and found a potential home in a parish building there. Rayas said the Parish Peace Project has reached out to Loyola University, the archdiocese’s Office of Lifelong Formation and Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity and existing religious institutes for advice and support.

“The Maryknoll fathers and brothers talk about ‘missionary discipleship,’” Hernandez said. “Our young adults go on mission trips to Guatemala and Colombia. The need for mission is here in Chicago. Who will step up and carry the church forward? We care about finding the next generation of lay pastoral leaders.”

Rayas and Hernandez hope to start a pilot for the lay apostolate this summer, they said. Information sessions for prospective members are scheduled for Feb. 15 and 16 at Providence of God.

In the meantime, the project will continue to look for ways to engage young adults and help them develop as leaders in the church.

“It’s been a struggle and a challenge to engage the young adults with how busy their lives get with school and family and work, at a time when they are still trying to figure out their identity,” Hernandez said, “But those are the key players who will be shaping our church and our society.”

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  • gun violence
  • peace
  • parish peace project
  • catholic campaign for human development
  • pilsen
  • providence of god parish

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