As violence continues to plague the city of Chicago, Pope Francis has sent words of encouragement, solidarity and hope to the people who live there.
“The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations – and it can heal Chicago,” the Pope said in a letter to the local archbishop, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.
“Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers,” Pope Francis said.
“Sadly, as you have told me, people of different ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds suffer discrimination, indifference, 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.”
Pope Francis’ words come amid a rising toll of murders and violent crimes in Chicago over the past few years. On March 30, seven people were killed in gang-related violence which occurred in three separate instances. Among those killed was a pregnant woman.
Over the past 15 months, some 900 murders have been reported in the city of Chicago, according to USA Today. Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel has condemned the violence, calling the most recent killings “evil.”
In an effort to respond to these violent acts, Cardinal Cupich announced a Walk for Peace that will take place in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on Good Friday, April 14.
The cardinal announced the peace walk at a news conference on Tuesday, where he was joined by the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, Monsignor Michael Boland, as well as the president and CEO of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Fr. Scott Donahue.
Pope Francis praised the event and said he would be with the participants in spirit.
“As I make my own Way of the Cross in Rome that day, I will accompany you in prayer, as well as those who walk with you and who have suffered violence in the city,” wrote the Holy Father.
Cardinal Cupich also announced a new series of anti-violence programs in Chicago, which will be funded with $250,000 from his discretionary charitable account, according to America Magazine.
“Broad gestures and sweeping rhetoric will not solve the problem. We need to do this person by person,” the cardinal stated.
While the way towards peace efforts is “not always easy,” Pope Francis emphasized that peace should be the only response to violence. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said that human conflict can only be resolved through love.
“I urge all people, especially young men and women, to respond to Dr. King’s prophetic words – and know that a culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results,” Pope Francis said.
Openness of minds and hearts will be required to move forward in peace, and this attitude should be taught in homes and schools, the Holy Father said, urging the citizens of Chicago to reject fear.
“I pray that the people of your beautiful city never lose hope,” Pope Francis wrote, and, “that they work together to become builders of peace, showing future generations the true power of love.”