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Presence of Christ felt during powerful moments at service

By Michelle Martin


When more than 500 people crowded into St. Michael the Archangel Church Nov. 5 for the wake service for Leticia Barrera, they did more than offer their condolences to a suffering family (husband, Manuel Flores; and their children, Evelyn, 6, Manuel, 4, and Jessica, 2).

“You could see the solidarity of the people,” said Bishop Gustavo García-Siller. “They were able to stand for the value of life.”

Many of them were undocumented and nervous about the presence of the police outside. Others were afraid of the gang violence that slew Barrera at about 6 p.m. on Halloween, her 32nd birthday, as she was returning home from trick-or-treating with her children.

The story is so horrific that it drew widespread response, incuding the presence of Mayor Richard M. Daley at an anti-violence rally where he called on anyone who knew who the two masked shooters were to come forward.

“Why is this different?” said Father Thomas Cima, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel. “Let’s see: mother, [killed] in front of her children, pregnant, on Halloween, on her birthday. That touched many nerves.”

Many moving moments

There were other powerful moments during the service in addition to the prayers going up for Barrera’s family.

As he made his way into the parish to prepare for the wake service, Bishop García-Siller saw area gang members gathered around outside the church. He said he approached them and invited them in.

“One of them said to me, ‘If we go in, we’ll be cursed,’” the bishop said. “I said, ‘Maybe you will be blessed instead.’ They knew they had done wrong, and they knew it was a sacred space. They know God exists, and they were afraid.”

When Bishop García-Siller rose to begin the service, he saw the youths, standing against the back wall.

“It was a powerful sign. I spoke to them. I said, ‘We have a dead body here,’” he said. “ It was a moment of grace to have those gang members there. These are the guys who are walking around, thinking they run the neighborhood. They get crazy, they do stupid things.”

Children sing for their mother

When Bishop García-Siller finished his homily and started the Prayers of the Faithful, Barrera’s two older children came up and took his microphone. They asked to sing a song, and started into “De Colores,” a widely known folk song that celebrates the colors of all creation.

“There weren’t many dry eyes in the church then,” Cima said.

When they finished, the bishop told them to teach the song to their baby sister, the way their mother taught them.

The service did not end until about 9:15 p.m., and the people stayed, even those with babies.

“It’s a young population,” the bishop said. “It’s important to call the young people to take responsibility and break the chain of violence.”