The Black Catholic Deacons of the Archdiocese of Chicago hosted their 11th annual sunrise service Aug. 7 to pray for the protection of the community’s children before the school year starts. This year’s service, at Oakwood Beach, included a Mass celebrated by St. Sabina pastor Father Thulani Magwaza and a final blessing from Cardinal Cupich. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry also attended. A congregation of about 100 people gathered in beach chairs and folding chairs or stood on the grass to pray as the sun climbed into the sky over Lake Michigan. “You look out and see the sun and the sky and it’s so peaceful,” said Deacon Leroy Gill before the Mass. “What better way to pray for peace than in a peaceful place. This is how God wants to see us: peaceful.” But Chicago has not been peaceful this year, he said, with more than 2,600 people shot since the beginning of January, including 250 children. “Our children are our flowers, and 250 of our flowers have been shot,” Gill said. “Pray for peace in our hearts, our families, our schools and our communities.” Magwaza told the congregation that working for peace isn’t “homework,” or what’s given to elementary school students to complete at home; it’s an “assignment,” like work given to high school and college students to work on wherever they happen to be until it is finished. “Let me share something with you,” Magwaza said. “You ain’t through with your assignment yet. … It is not enough to pray. Be seen in your neighborhood fighting for peace. Be seen in your neighborhood protecting your children. Be someone young people can count on. Prayer is good, but prayer alone is not enough. “You can’t be through with your assignment as long as a child is killed in the street. As long as we gather like this in prayer for peace in our city, you can’t be through with your assignment. You ain’t through with your assignment until God says, ‘Well done.’” Cardinal Cupich, who gave the final blessing, spoke in support of the late-summer gathering. “We do it to pray for and galvanize our support for the protection of our community from violence,” the cardinal said, “for everyone, but particularly for our children. Young people today need a sense of hope about their future.” That’s why the archdiocese uses its resources to keep Catholic schools accessible to as many children as possible, he said, and works with organizations like the Big Shoulders Fund and supports the Illinois tax-credit scholarship program. “It should not only be a right for people of means to have the choice of where their children will go to school,” Cardinal Cupich said. “It should be a right for all of us.” Brother Jim Fogarty of the Brothers and Sisters of Love at St. James Parish, 2907 S. Wabash Ave., attended with members of the parish’s peace and justice committee. “We do have a problem with violence,” Brother Jim said. “We need to think about it, reflect on it, pray about it.” “We’re here to bear witness,” said Barbara Sutton, also from St. James Parish. “There’s a terrible problem in this city. We need to turn to God but also to show we care.” Jennifer Davis and Teresa Gill, both deacons’ wives, said they came to the 6:30 a.m. service to support the deacons’ efforts to bring peace to the community. “It’s also about hope,” Davis said. “God is hopeful. It’s a joyful time. All is going to be well. It’s just a matter of time.” LaTanya Berry-Johnson, a parishioner at Our Lady of Africa, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., said her children went to Holy Angels School, and she has come to many of the annual sunrise services. Holy Angels Parish was one of the parishes that united to form Our Lady of Africa, and Holy Angels School is the parish school. “Being here is the right thing to do to help this community,” Berry-Johnson said. It also offered an opportunity to meet people from some of the other parishes that became part of Our Lady of Africa, she said.