Thirty people gathered on one Saturday morning earlier this month at St. Catherine/St. Lucy Catholic Church to begin their “Peace Pilgrimage” to end gun violence. After an hour of readings, songs and prayer, the group took a bus to Ascension in Oak Park and then to St. Martin de Porres on the West Side where they repeated the same format.
Some came because the statistics are so disturbing: 30,000 deaths caused by gun violence each year in the U.S.; so far this year 120 people have been shot and killed in Chicago and 708 have been shot and wounded; 314 homicides have been recorded in the Austin neighborhood since 2006.
Fr. Tom Walsh, pastor of St. Martin de Porres, 5112 W. Washington in Chicago, has been ministering for 22 years in the middle of the killing field. “I’ve done too many of these funerals for innocent victims,” he said. “Gun violence is destroying our communities, our families and the future of our young people.”
Some of those gathered had lost children to gun violence. One mother, who lost a son and didn’t want her name published, compared the agony of being alone in grief to a twig which by itself is easily snapped in two, but when bundled together with other fragile twigs cannot be broken. Another women wearing a Moms Demand Action T-shirt began weeping and couldn’t respond when asked to tell her story.
Some came to the pilgrimage because they wanted to give support to those who lost family members. Mary Rose Nauss, a member of St. Catherine/St. Lucy who lives in Oak Park, said, “I feel it in my heart, the hurts and the sorrow, the anger too that goes along with unnecessary violence.”
Another Oak Parker and member of St. Kate’s, Claudia Zinanni, added, “I’m here as a mother. I can’t imagine losing a child, and I’m here to support those who have had that tragedy happen in their lives. I think anytime you feel some support maybe it does a little good.”
Two “Mother’s Dream” quilts, composed of blocks or panels sewn together, each with the name of a victim of gun violence, provided the visual focal point. “We had a quilt-making day last summer at St. Martin de Porres where people from all three parishes got together and sewed some panels made of pieces of victims’ clothing,” explained David Philippart, pastoral associate at Ascension Catholic Church. National volunteers then sewed these panels together into quilts.
Panel 4D was in memory of Dana Monique Harvey. Pamela Lee, who created the panel, said, “The plaid fabric is from a blanket that belonged to Dana, a mentally ill young woman who was able to purchase a gun and kill herself with it. My dream is to have laws put in place to prevent another family from living through the heartache of burying their child.”
Eileen S. who created panel 6F wrote, “My dream is a day when our kids of all ages can go to school without having lockdown drills for active shooters. My daughter was a freshman in college when a young man came into the campus bookstore and shot and killed, at point blank range, a young woman he had been stalking.”
Oak Parker Fran Sullivan said, “I’m here because in 1984 I worked extremely hard to get a ban on handguns in Oak Park, and a referendum affirmed the ban. I’m angry that the Supreme Court refused to believe what I believe is the meaning of the Constitution’s wording.”
Chicago resident Maria Pike Davis is an activist when it comes to gun violence.
“My son was 24 years old when he moved to Logan Square where a man in a car stopped and killed him with multiple gunshots,” she said. “I am here because ever since his death I decided to do everything possible to stop other mothers from going through what I go through, every day of my life, so basically I became an activist. Because only 30-35% of murders are solved by the Chicago police, you have 70% of mothers waiting for justice to be done.”
Grace Bishop, a resident of Chicago, said, “I’m here because I believe in this. I believe that even if we change just one person, that’s one person we don’t have to worry about. One person at a time, that’s a good thing.”
Philippart added, “Will it do any good? Absolutely. I think that the compassion, concern and empathy that’s generated here today unleashes a spiritual power in the universe. As a Catholic, I call that power the Holy Spirit.”
Fr. Walsh said, “I’ve been out on street corners praying with a small group from our parish, and sometimes people will stop and join us saying ‘I just need to be part of this.’ People get curious about the good things they see.”