The scourge of gun violence in Chicago has been a favorite talking point on both the left and the right, frequently used as an example of the need for either law-and-order policing or stricter gun legislation.
Now Chicago’s violence is the subject of a letter from an unexpected source: Pope Francis.
“Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers,” the pontiff wrote Tuesday in a letter to Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago.
“I know that many families have lost loved ones to violence. I am close to them, I share in their grief, and pray that they may experience healing and reconciliation through God’s grace.”
The pope has never been to Chicago – when he made a papal visit to Washington, Philadelphia and New York in 2015, it was his first time in the United States. But as the archdiocese of Chicago launched an anti-violence project on April 4 Francis wrote that he was thinking of “your beautiful city.”
The archdiocese’s project creates a new fund, with $250,000 from the cardinal’s discretionary fund and more from donors, to contribute to programs that help prevent violence.
Announcing the fund on Tuesday, Cupich said that when he first landed at O’Hare International Airport in 2014 to take the helm of the archdiocese, he was asked by a reporter what he would do about the violence in the city. Since then, he has been trying to answer the question.
He found out that the archdiocese’s schools and charities operate in many neighborhoods plagued by violence – at one school, he said, administrators put the students on lockdown because a shooting occurred within two blocks of the school four or five times a week.
And many of the church’s programs directly try to reduce crime – like job-training programs for young men at risk of joining gangs, and Peace Corner, a LEED-certified building with a green roof situated on a street that divides rival gangs’ territory.
“The young people who come here need to be careful they aren’t crossing gang lines on their way to the building. It is also a block away from one of the most dangerous street corners in Chicago, where men openly deal drugs throughout the day. Yet, it is beautiful – open and bright by design,” Cupich said of Peace Corner at a news conference April 4 morning.
“The families we serve here . . . do not have the luxury of moving to other neighborhoods out of harm’s way. They stand at bus stops, trying to get to work, or walk their children to school, never knowing if today is the day a bullet will find them. So we stand here, too.”
He linked the problem of violence to the problem of racial discrimination, noting that men of color in particular remain underemployed in the city. “Solving the problem of violence requires that we break the bonds of racism, person by person, heart by heart,” he said.
Cupich said he picked Tuesday to announce the initiative because it was the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. He said he told Francis about the new fund during a recent visit to Rome, which prompted the pontiff’s letter.
Francis quoted King in his note to Cupich, writing, “I urge all people, especially young men and women, to respond to Dr. King’s prophetic words and know that a culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results. The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations – and it can heal Chicago.”
THE WASHINGTON POST