The Corner.

Br. Bill Puts a Rosary on a Friend in Need55th and Ashland in Chicago…God, I love that corner! Brother Jim and I walk together in that area every Wednesday as part of our ministry for Brothers and Sisters of love. It’s called the “Back of the Yards” by those who know Chicago. We visit neighborhoods from 47th Street to 55th Street and three or four blocks east and west of Ashland Avenue. But the hub of all activity for us is at 55th and Ashland—a melting pot of people from the area. Near an abandoned currency exchange there is a covered area at the bus stop and a small Bodega that competes with the commerce going on out in the street.

No matter what the weather, it’s rare if we don’t interact with at least a dozen or more people at this intersection. Sometimes the corner is empty as we approach, but suddenly people appear out of nowhere and converge upon us. I am now affectionately referred to as “Brother Bill,” and I cannot think of a more appropriate place to practice our street ministry of love.

The people we meet are incredible, and Jim and I always talk about how blessed we are to have them as our friends. One of my best friends, Pete, sells Newport’s one cigarette at a time for 50 cents apiece. Some days business is better than others. Sometimes in the winter Pete offers to take us to White Castle and buy us cups of hot chocolate. It is not lost on me that this is a very big expense for a man whose profit is only $3.00 for selling a pack of cigarettes one cig at a time.

An integral part of our ministry is being able to accept gifts from those people we regularly help. They need to feel the goodness of giving as well. One man sells “pimp oil” and chides me to bring some home to my “special lady.” I remind him that if I start bringing pimp oil home to my wife she might not be so thrilled about my walking ministry. We double over with laughter. My friend George sells bootleg movies for $2.00 each. Much of the time his wife is also on the corner, but she doesn’t sell anything. She is there to support George and keep him company. George always talks us up when we come; he is a big fan of our ministry. Sometimes the police come and hassle these independent entrepreneurs. But it doesn’t stop them from conducting their businesses on the corner. It just aggravates them.
So just what is our ministry on this unique corner? First of all, we pass out blessed rosaries and rosary bracelets. During holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, we give out food cards so that no one goes hungry. In the winter, we pass out gloves. Many people need bus fare or bus cards so they can get around easier. We also give out lots of hugs, and our Wednesday reunions are always heartfelt. Our corner friends love for us to come and be a part of their lives, and we love them as well.

Most importantly, we pray. Right there on my beloved corner—55th and Ashland. We hold hands and pray out loud. Sometimes there are three or four of us; often it’s a dozen or more. They ask us to pray for them. They recognize the power of prayer. We pray for God’s presence in our lives, for our children and families, for jobs and aid, for sick friends and relatives, for peace, for health, for freedom, and for Jesus’ love. It is very powerful. Brother Jim is very moving when he prays, and many a tear has been shed at the corner of 55th and Ashland. There are a lot of “Amens” as he prays. What a beautiful thing to do—to be able to pray openly with people without fear of reprisal of embarrassment. Surely it is God’s will.

There are days when I just don’t feel like driving down to the city. Days when I don’t feel very upbeat. It is a dreary neighborhood with severe poverty and the threat of violence is everywhere. Sometimes the dark reality of poverty and its social consequences overwhelm me. But 55th and Ashland is a little slice of heaven for me. It is a rare day that I don’t feel a strong sense of love and affection as I come away from there. I go there to give, and I come away having received so much more. I thank God for that corner and the people I pray with and hold so close to my heart.

~Brother Bill Mastro, BSL Board Member

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About Brothers and Sisters of Love

The Mission of Brothers and Sisters of Love is to be a visible sign of Jesus’ Love, Peace, and Presence to the poor in gang-infested neighborhoods in Chicago and to be a bridge between gangs & the poor with the Church. This is done by: 1. Loving everyone 2. Trusting in God 3. Forgiving everyone everything 4. Never being afraid.
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