To conquer violence church must ‘stand in the breach’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 31, 2022

To conquer violence church must ‘stand in the breach’

A diverse congregation gathered for the 12th Annual Sunrise Mass for Nonviolence and Peace at Oakwood Beach on the lakeshore on Aug. 27, 2022. The Black Deacons of Chicago, the Diaconate Office and the Black Catholic Initiative hosted a “Peace Day,” which included the Sunrise Mass followed by a symposium with faith and community leaders addressing violence in our communities. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Leroy Gill, Father Carl Gales, and Deacon Michael Foggie sing during the entrance procession. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the Our Lady of Africa choir join the congregation in praise. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Carl Gales gives the homily. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Willam Pouncy, Deacon Michael Foggie, Father Carl Gales and Deacon Leroy Gill prepare for the Eucharistic Prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Worshippers lift their hands up at the end of singing the Lord’s Prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Carl Gales distributes Communion to a familiar parishioner. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deborah Powell sings at the end of the Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

If the church wants to prevent or respond to violence in the community, it must go to uncomfortable places.

That was the message of speakers at an Aug. 27 peace symposium at Our Lady of Africa Church, 607 E. Oakwood Blvd., which followed the annual back-to-school sunrise prayer service to pray for peace at Oakwood Beach.

Precious Blood Father David Kelly, founder and executive director of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, talked about ministering for years at Assumption Parish and Kolbe House Jail Ministry, situated just north of Cook County Jail and near the boundary between two gang territories. Often, he said, he would minister both to the victims of violence and their families, and to those who committed the violence and their families.

In at least one case, that meant spending weeks visiting a shooting victim in the hospital and going directly to the jail to visit the young man arrested for the crime — a situation both men were aware of, and understood.

“That was our community,” he said.

In the court system, Kelly said, there is no way to be on both sides.

“You sit behind the defense table or the prosecution table, and there is no middle ground,” he said. “Standing in the breach, betwixt and between, and it’s there that I think the church needs to live.”

Liturgically, it could be compared to Holy Saturday, he said, after the devastation of the crucifixion and before the joy of the Resurrection, a day that is a “liturgical void” until the Easter Vigil after sunset.

The Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation practices, teaches and advocates for restorative justice, an approach based on relationships rather than on punishment. Rather than asking what someone did and how to punish them, Kelly said, it asks what happened and how to heal the harm.

It’s important to understand that many young people are living in a constant state of trauma, he said.

“Trauma has an impact on us,” Kelly said. “When we suffer a trauma, things that used to be important don’t have meaning anymore. Young people in our communities, particularly on the South and West Sides but all over, are suffering.”

To help, the church — that is, the people in the church — must leave the sanctuary and meet young people where they are, and work to build honest relationships with them.

“We have to build those kinds of relationships so that they know we accept them as they are, in their rage and in their trauma and in their pain,” Kelly said.

“We need to build relationships with young people outside the walls, who don’t go to church, who don’t hear our message, who don’t feel welcome at school and who often don’t feel welcome at church. We have to go to where they are.”

He has seen it happen. He saw it happen when he brought a group of mothers who had lost children to violence to the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center to meet young people who were incarcerated for doing violence to others. The mothers were uncomfortable when they walked in, he said.

“They saw what they thought were thieves and hoodlums and hooligans,” he said.

By the end of their first visit, after listening to the young men tell their own stories in a peace circle, they started to care.

“In that sacred space, they started to see each other differently,” Kelly said. “They were no longer thieves and thugs. They were children.”

Tanya Woods, director of the Westside Justice Center, also advocates for restorative justice.

“To me, ‘restorative justice’ is a big, fancy word for saying, ‘coming together and mending our fences,’” Woods said.

 While the Westside Justice Center is a legal aid agency, offering representation to people who can’t pay for a lawyer in matters such as evictions and civil lawsuits, it aims to help restore the community.

“We want to interrupt those systems of justice that keep us apart,” she said. “We start as family. All those kids who are hooligans and hoodlums? They are our cousins. They are our nieces and nephews. They are our kids. They are not other people’s children.”

Several audience members asked for resources about restorative justice and other ways to reach out to be shared with their parishes.

Bishop Joseph Perry, episcopal vicar for Vicariate VI, said that parishes, many of which have consolidated as part of the Renew My Church restructuring process, now might have the resources they would need to implement some of the outreach ideas.

Bishop Perry suggested that part of the problem is that many parents seem to have ceded their authority.

“We’re living in a time when we fear our young people,” he said. “They have become the adults and we have become the children, and the powers of parenting don’t work.”

Tyrone Pittman, Our Lady of Africa’s music director, said the young people he works with often are looking for guidance.

“Most of these young people really need someone to talk to them like a mother or father who cares,” he said, adding that people need to stop waiting for someone else to fix things. “You can do something. And when you see what that something is, start doing it. Because something beats the hell out of nothing.”

Deacon Leroy Gill, who has been organizing the sunrise prayer services with the Black Catholic Deacons of Chicago since 2010, also serves as the campus minister at the Academy of St. Benedict the African. He concurred that children want a listening ear. When he arrived at the school for the first prayer service of the year, “it was nothing but kids running up to me, wanting to tell me what happened over the summer.”

Too often, their stories were of relatives hurt or killed, he said.

“The prayer service started half an hour late because we had to talk about everything,” he said.

Gill said he wishes more children and teenagers came to the sunrise service, but he understands most of them don’t want to get up and out of the house for something that starts at 6:30 a.m.

Even so, it’s important for them to know that people are praying for them.

Sharon Adams, who has been attending the sunrise service each year since it started, said she has no intention of stopping, even though the violence seems to be more prevalent in recent years.

“We just need to constantly continue praying,” Adams said. “God does answer prayers.”


  • deacons
  • black catholic initiative
  • anti-violence

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