When Cardinal Blase Cupich is at the Vatican, Pope Francis will often ask how things are going in Chicago.
The pope’s ears perked up last week, when Cupich told him about beefing up the church’s anti-violence efforts in the city. The pope said he wanted to help.
And so on Tuesday, as Cupich stood inside a youth center in the violence-plagued West Side neighborhood of Austin, he read a letter from the pope to the cardinal and the city 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,” Francis wrote.
“Sadly, as you have told me, people of different ethnic, economic and social backgrounds suffer discrimination, indifference and injustice, and violence today. We must reject this exclusion and isolation, and not think of any group as ‘others,’ but rather as our own brothers and sisters. This openness of heart and mind must be taught and nurtured in the homes and in schools.”
Cupich read the letter as he announced plans for the Archdiocese of Chicago-led anti-violence initiative, including a “walk for peace” through the Englewood community on Good Friday.
Cupich said he told Francis last week that the plans for Chicago drew inspiration from the pope’s “World Day of Peace” message at the beginning of 2017.
“He said, ‘Yes, that is how I wanted each diocese in the world and the people in the world to respond to what I said,’” Cupich recalled. “That’s when he said, ‘Can I send a letter to tell the people, yes, keep going — this is what I would like, let’s move ahead?’ ”
Cupich said the pope had been aware of the violence plaguing some Chicago neighborhoods. “He knew in general,” the cardinal said. “I gave him more specifics.”
“Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers. . . . 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.”
The letter is signed “Francis.”
Father Michael Pfleger, the activist senior pastor at St. Sabina on the South Side, was at the Austin youth center Tuesday. He said he is encouraged by what he sees from Cupich and the pope.
“I’m glad to have lived long enough to see a pope and a cardinal who are really speaking about people’s needs and people’s hurts and pains,” Pfleger told reporters. “People are dying in the city. People are hurt in the city and they feel abandoned and forgotten.”
The Good Friday walk in Englewood is set to begin at St. Benedict the African Church, at 66th Street and Stewart Avenue, Cupich announced. Participants will trace the Stations of the Cross and pause along the way to remember those who lives were lost to violence.
Francis has pledged to accompany Chicagoans in prayer as he walks the Way of the Cross in Rome’s Colosseum that same day.
The walk is part of a multifaceted approach the archdiocese is launching to help combat the city violence problem, which has made headlines worldwide.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported last month that Cupich has assembled a team of city and church leaders to assess ways the archdiocese can help Chicago, which had more murders than New York and Los Angeles combined last year.
That team, Sneed reported, includes Chicago’s Catholic university heads; Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former Chief of Staff Eileen Mitchell; Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke; the Rev. David Jones, pastor of St. Benedict The African; Father Scott Donahue of Mercy Home For Boys & Girls; the Rev. Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church, and Msgr. Michael Boland from Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities and Mercy Home will aim “to increase the capacity and reach of current programs that address the root causes of violence and to identify and actively seek partnerships with like-purposed groups and individuals,” the archdiocese said in a news release Tuesday.
The archdiocese also is seeking donations aimed specifically at “investing in new approaches and partnerships to breaking the violence-causing cycle of despair, racism and poverty in the city.”