I must bear this cross. I have tried many times, for many years, to finally lay this burden down. I still struggle with the weight of it, the tears of it, the rivers of blood symbolized by it, my hate of it, the fate of it, and yet the grace of it.
So I bear this cross.
Sitting inside his home in west suburban Aurora, Greg Zanis, a retired carpenter, also feels the weight of this cross — more than 700 of them. With a permanent marker, he quietly, carefully, etches the name of another person murdered in Chicago in 2016.
It is mostly an act of solitude that requires lifting another bleached plank from the stack near his desk then laying it to the side and reaching for another.
Outside, on a white pickup truck in his driveway, stand a few dozen mostly completed crosses ready for transport to a nearby church. Inside the church, the crosses form a sea of life and death, of dreams extinguished, of blood spilled in a broken city. And even from these crosses, the cry arises to finally heal this murderous land.
Standing a sturdy 3 feet 6 inches at 25 pounds, the crosses are made with donated bleached birch wood. Each is affixed with a wooden red heart and bears that victim’s number in the tally, the date slain, name, age — from 1 month to 88, though most 25 to 50, Zanis says.
A final touch yet to be added to many of the crosses — mini-memorials to the murder victims — is a 9-by-12 color photo. For Zanis, 66, it’s just “another way to respect the victims.”
“The crosses feel like they’re alive to me,” he told me on this cold afternoon, a week before deadline to complete his mission to build a cross for every person murdered in Chicago, which appears to be at least 765 so far this year.
At 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, Zanis’ handiwork will be the focus of a prayer vigil at the Restoration Church in Aurora. It is a precursor to a march the following morning — New Year’s Eve — on Michigan Avenue, led by The Rev. Father Michael Pfleger and the Faith Community of St. Sabina, to call attention to Chicago’s violence. Zanis says he needs volunteers to transport the crosses from the Aurora church and to help carry them down Michigan Avenue.
For Zanis, it is “a simple message.”
“I feel like life…blood is spilled. What are we supposed to do, ignore it?” Zanis explained. “I’m trying to show the victims. This is their moment.”
Pfleger said he’s “hoping and praying” that the image of hundreds of crosses will “shake us as a city and as a country to say this is the magnitude of life we’ve lost in just one city.”
“We should be shamed by this, I think,” he told me, adding that Chicago has become “a national poster boy of violence in America.”
That violence has claimed not just a still emerging toll of homicide victims but more than 4,000 shooting victims — perhaps a truer barometer of Chicago’s violence.
The cross and the cure is one we must all bear.
It matters not whether we are urban or suburban, Jew or Catholic or Muslim, white, black or brown, gay or straight. This is a human crisis, a tragedy of epic proportions — one I have written about as a crime reporter in this town in the 1990’s when murder surged.
“I keep praying that we’ll hit the tipping point,” Pfleger told me.
So do I.
Until then, we must all help bear this cross.
For more information or to volunteer, call 773-483-4300
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