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November 22, 2009

Remembering loved ones lost to violence

By Michelle Martin


Midway through the Memorial Mass for Victims of Violence Nov. 12, a group of more than a dozen mothers who lost a son or daughter to violence walked in procession up the center aisle of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church at Ashland Avenue and 45th Street.

They carried a large wooden cross, which was set up in front of a black screen near the sanctuary. Then members of the congregation, most of whom also have suffered the loss of a loved one to violence, brought up dozens of white crosses inscribed with the names of their dead and mounted them on the screen.

It was a solemn moment in a solemn liturgy for people searching for ways to heal.

The annual Mass was hosted by the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation and celebrated by Bishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, who spoke of how he knows firsthand the way violence affects the family members, friends and neighbors and those who are killed.

Bishop Garcia-Siller mounted his own cross on the wall, in honor of Father Waclaw Jamroz, pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Parish, who died Oct. 8 in his rectory. Cook County Sheriff’s Police who investigated determined that he died of self-inflicted wounds.

“In some way, all of us have been touched by the reality of violence, which is terrible and awful,” said Bishop Garcia-Siller in a bilingual homily. “Our minds are touched, our hearts are affected emotionally and our bodies are connected.”

He told the congregation that the violence causes many different feelings, some we can control and some we cannot.

“I lost a friend. I can say my mind was affected, my emotions took me ways I couldn’t understand and also my body was affected,” he said.

But through Jesus, believers can find healing, he added, reflecting upon the Gospel passage from John in which Thomas needs to see and touch Jesus’ wounds to believe he has risen.

“When the disciple touched Jesus, he connected through the body, but also through the spirit,” Bishop Garcia-Siller said. “The Lord gives us through the marks of violence the expression of life.”

The community of believers can also draw hope from one another.

“When we allow the presence of other people to connect with us, our thoughts start finding understanding, our hearts start finding balance and our bodies start finding equilibrium,” he said.

While the church was nearly full for the annual Mass, Bishop Garcia-Siller said those who came are only a small fraction of the people affected by violence, and he thanked them for coming to share their faith that healing is possible.

Last year, there were 511 murders in Chicago. In 2009, there were 350 murders between January and the end of September, according to Chicago police.