Editor's note: "Reconciliation in Chicago" is NCRonline's newest blog series, a weekly blog from the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a ministry of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood based in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. Each post will feature hopeful reflections from the ministry's staff and volunteers, as they share their stories about working with youth and families affected by violence and incarceration.
"Reconciliation in Chicago" will be published every Monday at the feature series page Reconciliation in Chicago.
"He wasn't a bad kid. I mean, he wasn't perfect, but he was a good kid. He didn't deserve to die like that."
It was as if he had to defend his son even in death. Too many people had questioned why his son was killed. "Was he into something? Was he in a gang? What was he doing that he got killed?" Too often families who have lost a child to violence tell of how they feel as though they have to defend their loved ones even when they are the victims of a horrific crime.
A few years ago on a Sunday afternoon, as I was saying goodbye to our Hope and Healing group, a support group here at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation for families who have lost a loved one to violence, I received a call. "Father, can you come to the hospital? Andy was shot; they say he won't make it." I arrived at the hospital, celebrated the sacrament of the sick, and anointed Andy, but his wound was too grave and his heart gave out.
Only a week before his death, after Mass, on the steps of the church, Andy had spoken to me about enrolling in college. He had graduated some months before and was working at McDonald's. He wanted more out of his life. He wanted something that would give him a future. As he left, he turned and embraced me and said he'd call. Andy had just turned 18 years old.
One of the things that families who have lost a child to violence always say is that many people presume that their son or daughter, somehow, brought the violence on themselves. As we were planning the funeral, in the midst of his grief, Andy's father spoke of a kid who had struggled but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was killed in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. He was with his friends, riding in a car -- nothing more. He was a victim of violence.
Andy's older brother had only recently returned from Iraq after his tour of duty. He had returned back home to Chicago after completing four years with the U.S. Army. It was ironic, if not tragic, that he came back from war to the death of his little brother on the streets of Chicago.
One might be tempted to see this as an "urban issue," as something that is confined to the streets of places like Chicago. But school bullying, drug dependency, and family and institutional dysfunction is not limited to urban America. One only need to pick up the newspaper or turn on the television to hear stories of how violence has interrupted and changed forever the lives of yet another family, another community.
I cannot tell you how many community gatherings, town hall meetings, and strategy sessions I have participated in, that attempt to address the violence among our youth. The question as to why there is so much violence, drug abuse, and polarization within our communities seems to be the topic on many agendas. Why do so many youth seemingly have so little direction in their lives? Why is there so much violence in families and communities? Why are kids killing kids? What can we do?
While so many are focusing on stricter laws and harsher punishment, the church is called upon to do what she does best -- to reach out and heal. Programs that are designed not to punish, but to heal those who are caught up in violence seem to be more in line with who we are as a community of believers.
The first step toward learning how to prevent any health problem -- and violence is a health problem -- is to discover what causes it. Once we know what causes it, we know a bit more about how we are to overcome it, neutralize it, or remove it.
Violence, as opposed to some of the other health issues, is caused by humanity. "Hurt people hurt people," says Carl Bell, a noted psychologist. If we are to overcome the violence that plagues our communities and families, we must work to tend to those who carry so much pain and hurt. As a church, we can begin by reaching out and inviting them into our community. Once they feel welcome, then we can work toward healing and reconciliation.
Violence is often the result of feeling isolated and alienated. Violence both causes and is a result of the alienation and the loss of connectedness with those around us.
It is not that our work ends with building relationships, but it has to begin there. All the programs and intervention strategies cannot take the place of building and sustaining relationships with those who feel isolated from the world around them. A victim of violence or trauma feels as though they are alone. Whether it be the young person who is a victim of bullying, our men and women coming back from war, or the young person on the streets of Chicago, the stories are often times the same: the feeling of being numb, or isolated, or just feeling they don't belong.
The Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation is a ministry of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood charged with the mission of healing and reconciliation. We strive to create spaces -- sacred spaces -- where stories are told and relationships can be built or repaired. Some of those methods, such as the peacemaking circle, are teachable and usable in a host of situations. We reach out to those within our communities who are estranged or in pain and make a place for them -- a place of hospitality and care.
The parish church and school continue to be safe havens in our communities. For many, they are places of trust and acceptance. We must embrace the unique gift given to us through the blood of Jesus; we must embrace the ministry of reconciliation, not as an afterthought, but as the very core of who we are. We have the special gift and honor to tread in places where others cannot tread. We are called to allow the stories to be told and to honor those stories in how we live.
[Precious Blood Fr. David Kelly is executive director of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.]
A version of this blog previously appeared on the website of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. NCRonline presents the blog in collaboration with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.