February 15, 2018 // World News

CRS Stories of Hope: Finding hope amid violence in Chicago

Editor’s Note: Catholic Relief Services is an international organization dedicated to helping the poor across the globe. This year, during the liturgical season of Lent, when many individuals are practicing charity by contributing to CRS Rice Bowl collections, Today’s Catholic will present examples of how Rice Bowl funds are also being used to build communities and address individual needs here in the U.S. in the cities of Chicago, Louisville and Honolulu.

CHICAGO — The statistics say it all. The city of Chicago ended 2016 with 786 murders. In 2017, the number was already over 160 as of mid-April. The community is struggling with violence, and even the pope has noticed.

Pope Francis sent a letter to Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, offering words of encouragement and telling the city to “never lose hope.”

“Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers. I know that many families have lost loved ones to violence,” he wrote. “I am close to them, I share in their grief, and pray that they may experience healing and reconciliation through God’s grace.”

Cupich has committed the archdiocese to stepping up efforts to support anti-violence efforts. He has pledged to devote about $250,000 — half of his discretionary funds — to grassroots parish and neighborhood initiatives to reach young people and those affected by violence.

“If we don’t do this as a Church, we might as well pack up,” Cupich said in a news conference announcing the priority. “This is what we should be doing.”

Many parishes are already working to bring peace, healing and guidance to the communities they serve. In Little Village, for example, a unique program at St. Agnes of Bohemia helps young people who are vulnerable to gang recruitment find a positive outlet. These teens use positive graffiti to create art that inspires and empowers. Their work has become a community movement that values equity and fairness.

In the Back of the Yards neighborhood, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation works with over 250 young people and over 70 families who have been affected by violence and incarceration. Mentoring and building relationships is its chief work. Father Dave Kelly, who works at Precious Blood, explains they create safe places where people can speak their truth.

“You use a talking piece — a sacred object that you pass around — and you start to talk about who you are,” Kelly said. “After we have a relationship, have a sense of each other and where we are coming from, what makes us who we are, then you will deal with whatever issue is at hand. If it’s a burglary, then let’s talk about the burglary, but let’s talk about the burglary after you know who I am and not a label of a thief or a thug.”

Precious Blood also offers opportunities for young people affected by violence to learn a skill and prepare for a job.

“We have smaller opportunities here in which they could work to get their muscles up, their abilities up, and move them into a job, like woodworking, culinary arts and gardening,” Father Kelly said. “These are all kind of ways kids can discover career paths and talents, make a little bit of money and learn work ethics. Then you’ve got to work and get along with folks. When they are ready to move to a job outside of us, we have supportive employers that will take a risk.”

A Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl grant partially funds the programs at St. Agnes and Precious Blood. CRS carries out the commitment of the bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable here and overseas. CRS promotes human development around the world by responding to major emergencies, fighting disease and poverty, and nurturing peaceful and just societies.

Peace and a culture of nonviolence, Pope Francis wrote, are both needed and attainable in Chicago.

“The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations — and it can heal Chicago,” the pope wrote. “I pray that the people of your beautiful city never lose hope — that they work together to become builders of peace, showing future generations the true power of love.”

Article provided by Catholic Relief Services.

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