By Chinta Strausberg
Visibly pained and fed up with the recent spike of shootings in the black community, Father Michael L. Pfleger interrupted his own sermon Sunday and asked the men in the church to follow him in praying for the victims who were shot just blocks from Saint Sabina.
Before issuing the challenge to the men to join him at a prayer vigil where several youth were shot, Pfleger asked men and women to come to the altar and pray for the shooting victims that included several children who were caught in the crossfires of gun violence.
He then asked the women to remain at the altar and pray until the men returned to the church. The women prayed, cried, sang and pleaded for peace in the community and an end to the shootings where too often children became innocent victims of gun violence.
Pfleger said the recent spike in shootings is unacceptable. He was referring to the recent shootings at 79th and Justine and nearby intersections.Â Ironically, later on Sunday just a few hours after Pfleger held a prayer vigil, two children were shot, an 8-year-old boy who suffered wounds to his buttocks and a girl, 13, shot in her arm.
That same evening a 22-year-old man was in his car waiting for the traffic light to change when he was fatally shot.Â The violence is not just contained in the black community. Marvin Flanagan, 41, was fatally shot in the head last week. The incident happened in the Humboldt park community. In Englewood, an offender firing from an alley shot a 40-year-old man.
â€œEnough is enough,â€ said Pfleger who led his male congregation, who were black, white, Hispanic and Asian, down 79th Street to Ashland Avenue stopping at Nickâ€™s Restaurant and M&Mâ€™s on 79th where a sect of a certain street gang hangs out.
His voice cracking and his eyes filling with tears, a tight-lipped Pflegerâ€™s message to the shooters was crystal clear and speaking as a Christian leader, he said: â€œWe love you. You are our sons, but we will not tolerate the shooting and killing.
â€œWe will not tolerate our children and communities living in fear, and we will see you locked up if you donâ€™t stop,â€ Pfleger said. â€œLay down your guns now,â€ he said as he pasted a note on one of the stores where the gang sect hangs out.
The men marched silently behind Pfleger and stood in solidarity with the priest and his mission to help stem the rise of shootings in the communities surrounding Saint Sabina, which is located at 1210 W. 78th Place.
Pastor Pfleger told his congregation that most of the miracles happen beyond the church doors and reminded them to â€œbe churchâ€ once Sunday services are over.
Part of his mission at Saint Sabina â€œis to nurture and develop spiritually mature Christians who are trained leaders and who are confined by the walls of the sanctuary, but can penetrate the world in order to present Godâ€™s way of living as a divine option.â€ His goal is to turn â€œbelievers into disciples.â€
Pfleger, who has turned Saint Sabina into the nationâ€™s largest and most successful black churches, is no stranger to the battle to reduce gun violence.
Besides holding some of the funerals of teenage victims at his church, Pfleger, who adopted three boys and became a foster dad to Jarvis Franklin, still mourns the shooting death of Jarvis who was caught in gang crossfire on May 30, 1998.
Pfleger admits every time he hears of a shooting death of a child it reopens the wounds of the past. Police have never made an arrest in the Franklin fatal shooting; however, the Cold Case division of the Police Department has reopened the case.
But to the alleged gangbangers who loiter in front of the 79th Street business strip, Pfleger gave them a warningâ€”end the violence or go to jail. Pfleger also urged the public to end the â€œCode of Silenceâ€ he says only provides a haven for shooters to continue killing our youth.
When Pfleger and the men returned to church, the women aligned both sides of the center aisle praying and applauding them for being â€œreal menâ€ who stood up to youth who are using â€œweapons of mass destructionâ€ against innocent children.
Pfleger anointed the heads of each man who marched with him with anointed oil. He continues to pray for peace but is ready to once again march against gangbangers.
To date, Saint Sabina has issued four $5,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest of shooters.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.
Photo: By Marcus G. Manning