“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr, letter from Birmingham jail
A few months ago, I cried for the second time in my adult life. They were tears of compassion for the poor. They were tears of zeal for justice.
I was visiting some friends in Honduras. They were speaking to me in great detail about the horrible gang violence that plagues their neighborhood. Shootings are constant. Neighbors pay “dues” to gang members regularly so that they won’t be the next victims. The struggle seems endless. Everyone knows a victim.
After this sobering and painful description, a child turned to me and asked with twinkling black eyes, “And what is it like in Chicago?”
It was then that I began to cry.
I cried because of the innocence of the question. I cried because murderers kill people every day in Chicago.
The child’s tone suggested that, compared to Honduras, the United States is paradise. However, I know that the moral purity of the United States is largely a myth.
Yes, the murder rate in Chicago is not as high as the murder rate in San Pedro Sula, Honduras; yet, for many Chicagoans, the reality is the same.
As the child asked the question, my mind’s eye turned to this image:
I was there, and I thought of the hundreds of people, black and white, with whom I marched through East Garfield Park in Chicago on Good Friday, led by Cardinal Cupich and other religious leaders. We marched to honor the victims of gun violence. We marched in hope that a day will come when people put down their arms and begin to love each other again. We marched because Christ, too, suffered from hatred and violence at the hands of his oppressors.
When I was tearing up and my voice was trembling, I pulled out my phone and flipped to that image of the cross with hundreds of people marching and praying behind it. That image from the front page of the Chicago Tribune spoke more powerfully than I ever could. That image, for me, is Chicago–mourning and hopeful.
I don’t know what it is like to be black in Chicago. I don’t know what it is to suffer systematically from racism. And from the confines of my situation in Edgewater on the Northside, I don’t feel that my life is on the line daily.
I do know, nonetheless, that I shed tears of compassion for those slain in this city. I do know that I am disappointed in this city. I do know that I love this city.
I do know that I want violence and racism to come to an end.
May God raise up for Chicago a new generation of prophets, who will call Chicago to repentance. May God give Chicago political leaders with the wisdom of Solomon and the tender heart of David, who will enact real changes. May God bring Chicago together, strengthening the bonds of his Body, the Church.
May God give us hearts restless for justice. May we act personally and politically. May we have a sacrificial spirit and an authentic thirst for peace.
May Black History Month inspire us with the beautiful vision of the Promised Land witnessed by Moses, Jesus, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
–David Inczauskis, S.J.