Students gather to pray for an end to child abuse

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, May 4, 2023

Students gather to pray for an end to child abuse

Students from archdiocesan Catholic schools participated in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s 12th annual prayer service for child abuse prevention and pinwheel planting on April 27, 2023 at the Healing Garden at Holy Family Parish, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road. The outdoor service was led by Bishop Robert Lombardo. As part of the prayer service, students, staff, parishioners and community members planted pinwheels and tied blue ribbons on to trees in the Healing Garden, both symbols of child safeguarding efforts. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Lombardo prepares to lead the opening prayer and reflection. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
A student gives a reading. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Students pray during the service. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Students from St. Mary of the Woods School plant pinwheels in the garden. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Students plant pinwheels. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
An adult sings during the service. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Jesuit Father Patrick Fairbanks leads the closing prayer. On the right is Superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools Greg Richmond. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Students from St. Therese Chinese Catholic School. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Students from St. Mary of the Woods School. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Students from Northlake Academy. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)

More than 100 students from seven archdiocesan schools stood under a clear blue sky April 27 to pray for an end to child abuse at the 12th annual Pinwheels for Prevention prayer service at the archdiocese’s Healing Garden, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road.

The blue pinwheels students held spun in the cool spring breeze while speakers reminded the children that they deserve to be safe, and that there are adults who will listen to and help them.

Michael Hoffman, chairman of the archdiocese’s Hope and Healing Committee, told those assembled that when he was 12, about the age of many of the children listening, “a very bad man who was a very dear friend of my parents hurt me.”

The abuse, committed by a priest at Hoffman’s childhood parish, continued for years, and he didn’t know if his parents would believe him if he told them what was happening.

“I’m asking you not to do what I did” if something wrong is happening to them, Hoffman told the children. “Tell your teacher, tell your principal, tell a priest or a policeman. They’ll believe you and they will help you.”

It’s important, he said, that the safe environment curriculum for children in Catholic schools and religious education programs explicitly gives students permission to disclose abuse to trusted adults.

“I didn’t have that permission,” he said.

The outdoor service also included an opening prayer and reflection from Auxiliary Bishop Robert Lombardo, a Scripture reading from Catholic schools Superintendent Greg Richmond, prayers of the faithful led by participating students, music from St. Ignatius College Prep students and a letter from Cardinal Cupich who was unable to attend.

“All of us at the Archdiocese of Chicago are responsible for creating a safe environment for our children and young people, in our parishes, schools and communities. Your safety is of utmost importance to us,” the cardinal wrote in the letter that was read by Mayra Flores, coordinator of the archdiocesan Office for Safe Environment and director of the Office of Assistance Ministry, both under the umbrella of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.

“You have gathered here today in this sacred space to raise your voices in song and prayer to ask our Heavenly Father to protect all children from abuse, neglect and violence, so that all may enjoy their childhoods,” the letter continued. “We also must take time to thank those people we love and who love us, and those who keep children safe. We are reminded over and over how much God loves us. No matter how small the heart or voice, all deserve God’s love and protection.”

In his reflection, Bishop Lombardo struck the same chord.

“Let’s look at the words of Jesus,” Bishop Lombardo said. “He said very, very clearly, ‘I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.’ You all have young lives, with so much to look forward to. How many of you want to be safe, each and every day? It’s important to us to make sure that each and every one of you, made in the image and likeness of God, have an environment of safety.”

Jesus also said, “Be not afraid,” Bishop Lombardo said, and prayed that children who suffer abuse, neglect or violence have the courage to tell someone.

“Often, what happens is we are paralyzed by fear,” Bishop Lombardo said. “Let’s be not afraid. If there’s something that we need to deal with, let’s bring it to the light of Christ so that we can deal with it appropriately.”

Before the service concluded, participants planted their pinwheels — symbols of childhood innocence — among the blossoming bushes and trees of the garden, which was created in 2011 to be a place of reconciliation, hope and healing for those harmed by sexual abuse by clergy members, including victim-survivors and their families, as well as members of the wider church.

This year, elementary school students from St. Mary of the Woods School, Holy Angels School, Northside Catholic Academy, Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy, St. Celestine School and St. Therese School joined high school students from St. Ignatius College Prep at the service.

Hoffman, who served on the committee that created the garden, said he is heartened by public prayer for the healing of victim-survivors and for the prevention of future child abuse.

“From my perspective as a clergy abuse survivor, public outreach that supports the dignity, safety and well-being of all children is real progress from the time I was a little boy,” Hoffman said. “Also, public prayer such as this, is an important way to raise awareness in the church, that every child is a child of God and it is our mutual responsibility to protect and nurture all children in a healthy, safe, and loving environment.”


  • child abuse prevention

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