Kolbe House walk prays for incarcerated, justice reform

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, April 21, 2022

Kolbe House walk prays for incarcerated, justice reform

Kolbe House Jail Ministry commemorated the beginning of Holy Week with a Palm Sunday prayer walk around Cook County Jail on April 10, 2022. Before the walk, participants painted rocks with messages of peace. During the 2-mile walk, attendees reflected on Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem and His own arrest and detention, as a call to unite in our commitment to defend the human dignity of those incarcerated and promote reconciliation and healing for all affected by the criminal justice system. (Karen Callaway/ Chicago Catholic)
From left, Emily Cortina, coordinator of outreach and formation for Kolbe House, Joseph Vidmar, Dawn Vidmar, Matej Vidmar, Natalia Vidmar and Ivana Vidmar interact during the rock painting. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Ivana Vidmar paints a message of peace on a rock. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The procession leaves the park and makes its way to the jail. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Joseph Vidmar, a Kolbe House board member, walks down 31st Street along with other participants. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The procession makes its first stop to pray outside of the Cook County Jail Division IX - Super MAX. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Women pray at the first stop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
People pray at the first stop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Father Tom Boharic, pastor of Mother of the Americas Parish, and others pass by jail gates located on California Avenue. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The procession makes its way past the jail. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For the 50 or so Chicago-area Catholics who gathered outside Cook County Jail on Palm Sunday, the 2-mile prayer walk hosted by Kolbe House offered an opportunity to show solidarity with people affected by incarceration.

The group gathered at La Villita Park, across Sacramento Avenue from the sprawling jail complex, and participants drew and wrote messages of peace and hope on rocks that they placed on the ground during the walk.

Participants in the April 10 walk included volunteers and staff members from Kolbe House, the archdiocesan jail ministry that ministers to people who are affected in any way by the jail and prison system: those incarcerated in Cook and Lake counties, the families of incarcerated people, those released from jail or prison and those who work in the jail system.

Among them was Joe Vidmar, a Kolbe House volunteer and advisory board member, who came with his family. The Slovenian Catholic Mission in Lemont regularly helps Kolbe House, Vidmar said.

He helps teach a financial literacy class for inmates at the jail, which primarily houses people awaiting trial, he said.

“People are in there for a long period of time,” he said. “And the effects trickle down. They can’t provide for their families. It affects the whole community.”

After a Palm Sunday reading, participants sang gentle “hosannas” as they made their way around the outside of the facility, passing brick and concrete walls, chain link fencing and razor wire. They walked in the sun, along a litter-strewn roadside, and in the shadow of the jail walls, which echoed their song back to them.

Emily Cortina, coordinator of outreach and formation at Kolbe House, drew a direct connection between the people carrying palms around the jail and the people who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem by laying palm branches and their cloaks on the road in front of him.

“They said ‘hosanna,’ a word that means ‘save us,’ in desperation for freedom from the oppression of their times,” she said.

The group was led by a half-dozen altar servers from Mother of the Universe Parish, the newly created parish that took in Assumption Church, the home of Kolbe House. The children took turns carrying the processional cross, stopping at several places outside the walls to pray.

The prayers at each stop included intentions for the victims of violence, for mercy toward those who have caused grave harm and for the families of those who are incarcerated. They also included intentions for healing from trauma, for breaking the bonds of addiction and mental illness, eradicating racism, shining a light on and recognizing the harm caused by the legal system and for “a reimagining of our church and our community, to be one where no one is excluded or deemed unworthy.”

At one stop, on the grassy median in California Avenue between Divisions X and XI — maximum security and medium security men’s units — participants were told that the two units house about a third of the jail’s inmates.

Dominican Sister of Peace Cathy Buchanan, a volunteer staff chaplain from Kolbe House, works in Division 10, the maximum security men’s unit. Before entering religious life, she worked for 27 years in the corrections system in New Jersey.

Events such as the prayer walk remind people about people who are in jail or prison, Sister Cathy said.

“It brings awareness to the incarcerated population,” she said. “It brings awareness that we are to continue to pray for them. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ and they need prayers just as much as we do.”

The walk also sends a message to people in jail and the people who love and care for them that there are people ready to help them when they are released, said Jesuit scholastic Michael Petro, who works in re-entry ministry at Kolbe House.

“It shows that there is a community out here wanting to walk with and support people who are released,” he said. At another stop, near the entrance to the criminal court building and the building housing the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, they remembered family members, who could be seen making their way into the various units because Sunday is a popular visiting day.


  • jail ministry
  • cook county jail
  • palm sunday

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