The Rev. Michael Pfleger has turned to the cross.
Almost 800 crosses, actually, marching down Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue. White, wooden crosses, etched with the names of the dead, the murder victims of 2016.
Crosses borne by loved ones left behind, neighbors, friends and anyone else who cares.
“The violence is driving me out of my mind,” Pfleger said over the phone. Last week, I called Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church and crusader against guns and mayhem. His voice was plaintive, tinged with desperation.
He has tried everything. He has talked to everyone. The slaughter continues. “It’s not even a conversation any more,” he said. “I don’t even hear the mayor talking about it anymore. It’s almost an accepted fact.”
The fact that Chicago has suffered 765 murders in 2016, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ count as of Friday afternoon. About 4,200 people have been shot. And counting.
So, the rebel Roman Catholic priest has teamed up with Greg Zanis, a career carpenter in west suburban Aurora. Zanis is fashioning a cross for every Chicagoan killed this year.
On Saturday, the last day of 2016, marchers will gather at 11 a.m. at the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue. They will tote the crosses in tribute to hundreds of dead men, women and children, the city’s promise, snuffed out by our ceaseless, bloody crime, along the Magnificent Mile.
Pfleger is aiming for “shock value,” he says. “I am hoping the magnitude of this will shake us up to do something.”
It will surely be a spectacle. It will surely irritate New Year’s Eve shoppers out looking for sparkly dresses and natty ties. The swanky store keepers will surely cringe. The TV news cameras will surely roll.
Bring it on.
As a lifelong Roman Catholic, I revere the cross as a sacred symbol of sacrifice and salvation. Christ carried and died on the cross to save humanity.
Those 2-foot tall, wooden blocks represent a chance for us to do something. Each cross represents another lost sliver of our own humanity. They symbolize the hundreds of murders, and thousands more shootings, that are destroying, traumatizing and maiming thousands more.
“By picking up that cross, you pick up a responsibility,” Pfleger explains. “[You are saying] ‘if I pick up that cross, I am making my commitment to do something about it.’ ”
What does Pfleger want us to do?
He hopes the crosses will inspire corporations and government agencies to step up, “right now.”
“We’ve got 45,000 brothers out here who are not in schools, not in jobs. Do something for them.”
Or, he said, just come. “Come out there and be part of the solution.” More than 1,000 have already committed to march, he said.
We can all take up a cross, just by starting to care. On the South Side, and the West Side. The slaughter is a problem for the Gold Coast, Lake View, Sauganash, Mount Greenwood, and beyond Chicago, from Flossmoor to Winnetka to Elgin. Commit to doing something to stop the violence in 2017.
To help, call St. Sabina’s at 773-483-4300
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: @MediaDervish