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Yo-Yo Ma performs Concert for Peace at St. Sabina Church

Father Michael Pfleger with Yo-Yo Ma at a Concert for Peace on Sunday afternoon at St. Sabina Church. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

When Father Michael Pfleger heard that someone claiming to be Yo-Yo Ma had come to St. Sabina Church in Gresham and had asked to speak with him, he figured it must be a joke.

“But our god is a funny god,” Pfleger said when he met the internationally acclaimed cellist.

Ma asked if he could play a song, and Pfleger responded, “You’re Yo-Yo Ma, you can do the next service.”

On Sunday, Ma performed at a Concert for Peace at the Catholic Church — a sold-out show. Every one of the 1,500 seat was filled, with attendees also seated along the walls and standing in back.

They came from more than 150 ZIP codes, and were of every race, religion and creed, Pfleger said. And they had not gathered downtown, but on the South Side, in a church, he said.

Asked what appealed to her most about the concert, Deborah Henderson, of Tinley Park, said, “I feel like it brought a sense of kinship, of community. That’s important these days.

The concert raised $70,000 for St. Sabina’s anti-violence mission and the Strong Futures employment program, which benefits at-risk young men in the community.

Musicians play with Yo-Yo Ma (right) at St. Sabina Church on Sunday afternoon. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition brought the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and American composer Scott Joplin — two men of different backgrounds — to the same city to perform. Unfortunately, the two did not meet, Ma told the crowd. But the set list on Saturday was meant to imagine what might have happened if they had met.

The concert featured members of the St. Sabina Church band, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and Chicago Children’s Choir. The eclectic setlist ranged from Aaron Copland to Duke Ellington to a medley of South African songs.

Ma also gave a moving solo performance, pulling the final note from the strings with his bow. The audience was silent until the last, fragile note had dissipated.