Six parishes in Vicariate III have received grants totaling $105,000 through Our Peace Plan, a vicariate-wide effort led by Auxiliary Bishop Robert Lombardo and Linda Weaver, who came up with the idea and donated the grant money. Weaver always wanted to do something to help reduce the violence in Chicago, and after learning that she was the beneficiary on her son John Weaver III’s life insurance policy, she decided to use the funds to help parishes in her son’s memory. Her son died in a 2019 plane crash along with his father and younger brother. Through Our Peace Plan, parishes submitted plans to address violence in their communities and promote peace. The winning three parishes received $25,000 to implement their plans, and three runners up received $10,000. Our Peace Plan sought to foster creative ideas in the parishes to address violence of all types. Vicariate III includes city neighborhoods such as Avondale, Back of the Yards, Brighton Park and Austin. Mother of the Americas, St. Aloysius and St. Paul parishes received $25,000 each and St. Agatha-Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Mary of the Angels and St. Michael the Archangel received $10,000 each. Mother of the Americas will use the grant to implement a youth arts intervention program; St. Aloysius will implement programming for youth and young adults; St. Paul will use the grant to enhance youth programing aimed at giving youth alternatives to violence and reducing incarceration and recidivism; St. Agatha-Our Lady of Sorrows will use the grant to expand an existing mentoring program for families in North Lawndale and Garfield Park; St. Mary of the Angels will use the grant to create Taste of Catholicity to promote ethnic and cultural understanding among parishioners and the community; and St. Michael will use the grant to increase its violence prevention efforts. The grants are a boon to parishes, said Bishop Lombardo, who is concerned about the increased violence in the communities. “I think that the violence is getting worse, and I think that as it gets worse more and more people want to do something about it. I think that what Linda has provided through these grants is an opportunity to do something about it on the grassroots level and gives parishes an opportunity to add a dimension of our faith to that response,” he said. “I think that what the grants have done is to rally some of our faithful Catholics to reflect on and then implement things that they can do in their local area. And each area has a little shade of difference,” Bishop Lombardo said. Father Tom Boharic, pastor of Mother of the Americas Parish in Little Village, said his parish will use the grant to pilot an afterschool arts intervention program in the fall. It will be led by a parishioner who is a professional artist and will teach the young people linoleum printmaking. Boharic created a similar arts program called the Imago Dei Project when he was associate pastor at St. Agnes of Bohemia. “With my experience before, from St. Agnes and with Imago Dei, just seeing how well art works for bringing in youth, it’s a good medium for us to teach the faith,” Boharic said. “We’re created in the image and likeness of God, so images are really important for us.” Art is also important in Mexican culture, so it is a natural way to reach at-risk youth in his community, Boharic said. The project will also be a safe space where young people can share deeper things going on in their lives. “We need more and more youth programing. Myself, I’m trying to open up more things for youth to do,” he said. Young participants will also learn entrepreneurial skills and sell their art, earning them money. Eventually Boharic wants young people to create murals in the community. The grant will allow the parish to obtain equipment and supplies it needs for the program and to pay the artist to provide a high-quality program the young people can be proud of, Boharic said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do these different things at this level without [Linda Weaver]. I’m just really grateful for her,” Boharic said. Parishes located in neighborhoods that suffer from violence often lack resources to do more anti-violence outreach to youth, Boharic said. “It doesn’t mean the church doesn’t love the youth,” he said. “We are just limited in what we can offer. Just as we have to invest in our church and invest in our buildings, we have to invest in our people. I really believe in investing in our youth. By investing in our youth, we are investing in our church and investing in our community.” When Opus Dei Father John Waiss, pastor of St. Mary of the Angels, 1850 N. Hermitage Ave., learned of Our Peace Plan, he began thinking back on the social unrest of 2020 and what his parish could do to respond and promote peace. St. Mary of the Angels is located in the city’s trendy Bucktown neighborhood, which does not have the same level of violence as some other neighborhoods in Vicariate III, but it still can help bring about change, he said. So the parish came up with the Taste of Catholicity, where various Catholic ethnic and racial groups and parishes will be invited for Mass and socializing on Sundays as a way to introduce people to new traditions, cultural beliefs and backgrounds. “One of the things I thought was to just expose people to different cultures,” Waiss said. “We have Catholics of all races and all nationalities and people just need to get exposed and say, ‘Hey, people on the South Side and people on the West Side are Catholic too and they share so many of our same beliefs.’” The parish also plans to involve the school students and will reach out to the wider neighborhood and invite them in. “We’re just letting the Holy Spirit call the shots here,” he said. “We just want people to feel safe with people from other races and cultures and nationalities and feel connected and say, ‘Hey, we’re part of the same family.’” For St. Mary of the Angels, Our Peace Plan inspired creativity around the issue of promoting peace. “When you’ve got some money you’re not expecting, you can say, ‘This is something that we wouldn’t normally be able to do,’ and it spurs us on to actually take that creativity and put it into action and into work,” he said.