The air was oddly still as Brother Jim and I approached 53rd and Hoyne that Friday night. We had heard of two gang members who had been killed in a retaliation shooting the previous day, and we were looking for the mourners. As we walked the streets from 50th and Hermitage towards the site, we ran into various groups encouraging us towards our destination. We were told of parties and celebrations in honor of the fallen victims. We expected to see landmark memorials of teddy bears and vodka bottles, signatures of loved ones, candles and pictures. When we came to the intersection, however, we saw a calm, empty street.
Walking around the block, we found our answer. Rather than gather in the streets where we could walk through the crowds with ease, the party had gathered in the neighborhood park. We had a choice: Awkwardly turn around at this dead-end and go home, or walk straight through the middle of the park and into the celebration.
I hesitated for a moment, thinking to myself, “This is everything my mother told me never to do.” We were outnumbered two to at least thirty, about to walk through the middle of strangers who were angry and upset, most likely under the influence of various substances and some no doubt with weapons. Nothing about this sounded rational. I forced my fear down and focused on our purpose to love. Brother Jim and I walked through the park, hoping for hospitality instead of hostility. The air was thick, and many eyes shifted towards us. The walk towards this group seemed to take longer than a commute in Chicago traffic. But there was no escape.
After an extended period of silence, someone near the basketball courts shouted “Brother Jim! Hey, what’s happening?!” You could feel the tension in the air dissolve. After recognition by one member, the rest of the group came up to us, giving us handshakes, asking for rosaries and a prayer, and sharing with us the news of their lost friends. The encounter ended with hugs, warm good-byes, and farewell remarks about safety and taking care.
We walked away that night experiencing true grace. There was no doubt that we had made the right decision. It makes me question: Where else in life do I deny the possibility to experience this grace? Where do I choose to turn around and walk away instead of love in uncomfortable circumstances?
Always love. Never turn away. This is how the work of Brothers and Sisters of Love happens. We have spent the past few weeks walking further west in Back of the Yards, and each time the residents seem more open and willing to engage in conversation. Inch by Inch and handshake by handshake, the Spirit of God casts out the fear and hostility and creates some wonderful friendships that we hope will continue to grow.
May we all seek out possibilities to turn towards one another in love rather than away in fear, orienting ourselves towards God’s will for peace in this world.
–Megan Sherrier, BSL
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