Vicariate III launches Our Peace Plan to address violence

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, March 17, 2021

When Linda Weaver lost her husband and two adult sons in a tragic plane crash in 2019, the grief she and her family experienced was unimaginable.

In the weeks and months to come, she found herself empathizing with the countless parents who lost children to violence in Chicago. While her sons died on a fishing trip doing something they loved, Weaver could only imagine the pain of losing a child to an act of senseless violence.

After learning that she was the beneficiary on her son John Weaver III’s life insurance policy, she decided to use the funds to try to find ways to reduce violence in the city.

It’s something she had wanted to do for several years, but family concerns took precedence, including the loss of her husband and two sons, so she put the idea on the back burner. When her longtime friend then-Franciscan Friar of the Renewal Father Robert Lombardo was named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago, she felt that it was a perfect time to launch the plan and that Bishop Lombardo and his vicariate were the perfect partners.

Weaver and Bishop Lombardo launched Our Peace Plan in February. The plan is open to every parish in the vicariate and it encourages them to develop ways to reduce violence in their communities.

“Linda approached me with all of the spike in violence, wanting to step forward and provide some resources to our vicariate, knowing that Vicariate III is one of the hardest-hit areas,” said Bishop Lombardo, who was ordained to the episcopate in 2020, during a period of increasing violence. “Her thought was that on the grassroots level, some of our parishes could make a difference or some of our institutions could make a difference because they know the neighborhoods.”

The plan seeks to foster creative ideas in the parishes to combat violence of all types.

“She also offered to provide some financial resources for those that came up with good, viable plans that integrated our Catholic faith, living the Gospel and Gospel principles with an outreach to the areas that have been hard hit by the spike in violence,” Bishop Lombardo explained. “It’s got to flow from the grassroots because that’s what’s going to be effective.”

Our Peace Plan starts as a challenge in which parishes submit plans for funding. The winning parish will receive $25,000 to implement its plan, and five runners up will receive $10,000. The submitted plans can be new or enhance existing peace efforts in the community.

“I’m a very empathetic person,” Weaver said. “I always have been. When I see someone suffering, I don’t just feel sorry for them. I tend to feel the pain too. So I just don’t want people to go through that. If I can help stop the violence in some way, I want to do it.”

She also sees this as honoring the legacy of her son John, or Johnny, as the family called him, who was 40 when he died.

“I know he would want that money to be used for something like this,” said Weaver, a parishioner at Holy Name Cathedral. “Johnny was such a good, sweet kid. He was voted ‘most faithful’ by his office the December before the accident because everybody there knew that if they needed help, he would be the one they knew would help them.”

Vicariate III includes city neighborhoods such as Avondale, Back of the Yards, Brighton Park and Austin.

“There is not a parish within our boundaries that somehow doesn’t get affected by violence,” said James Erler, parish vitality coordinator for Vicariate III, who is working with Weaver on Our Peace Plan. “Things like this [plan], where we get people together to work on this are beautiful and inspiring.”

The effort is taking place in phases. Parishes are beginning by establishing core committees to research the underlying causes of violence in their communities, as well as learning about and connecting with organizations that are already working in their communities. Then they can complete a survey about their findings on the The survey results will be shared with all of Vicariate III. A second survey will include parishioner feedback.

Next, the vicariate will accept plans and present awards on June 11, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“It could be brand new ways to address this, or it could be how do we beef up an existing ministry,” Erler said. 

The monetary prizes attached to the effort have generated excitement in parishes, Erler said.

“There’s the big prize, but the runner-up prizes just incentivizes it,” he said.

Organizers are also exploring ways to engage high school students in the effort.

“What we’re trying to do here is not just save one or two people but to build a model that can be used in other areas of the city,” Weaver said. “We’re trying to figure out what works and trying to do new things.”

After receiving feedback about the effort, Erler already sees potential for the plan to spark discussions and other peace initiatives in the vicariate.

Erler relates Our Peace Plan to Pope Francis’ idea of the church being a field hospital ministering to the wounded.

“This project helps us look at how are we literally helping to heal the community,” he said. “It’s a tension being a field hospital because you’re located right in the middle of the battle zone, but you are called to go out to seek people who need the healing.”

Bishop Lombardo said the project is “a win-win in many ways.”

“The whole hope is to get more of the creative juices flowing and to get more of our Catholic people involved in being part of the solution to the violence that’s plaguing our society and to build some bridges among people,” he said.

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