Scores of parishioners Sunday held a “Jericho Walk” for peace in the communities, on the streets, peace in homes and for a resolution for embattled Father Michael L. Pfleger who was suspended by Cardinal Francis George for remarks he made on a radio talk show.
The monthly Saint Sabina’s “Unity” service was dubbed “Youth Day” where the children danced, spoke and told of how Pfleger has molded their character, guided their careers and life choices and praised him for helping to heal their broken and crime-ridden communities and for teaching them to be “social agents for change.”
It was their day to ask Cardinal Francis George to life the suspension on their Pastor.
And, the Saint Sabina leadership is holding a ‘Corporate Fast’ today, Tuesday, May 3, 2011 with the focus on scripture being 1 John 5:14-15.
During the fast, please pray for the following:
1) The work that God has already began in the lives of his people will continue to prosper;
2) People of God will declare war on the spirit of distraction, fear, and all the assignments of the enemy.
3) The spirit of reconciliation – the people of God will embrace their calling as ministers of reconciliation.
Then on Tuesday evening, we will have Corporate prayer in the church starting at
In the Cardinal’s April 27, 2011 letter, George said “several times in recent years you have told me that you do not want to remain as Pastor of Saint Sabina Parish for the length of your priestly ministry in the church.”
However, Saint Sabina’s leadership, headed by Isador Glover and Rev. Dr. Kimberly Lymore, said that was not an accurate statement.
“Contrary to what is mentioned in this letter, Fr. Pfleger has said on a number of occasions that he wants to remain in the Catholic Church, but he doesn’t want to stay at St. Sabina for the rest of his life without a plan for succession, because he wants St. Sabina to survive.”
The question of why didn’t the Cardinal respect and honor the transition plan he and Pfleger had already approved more than a year ago which allows Associate Pastor Father Thulani Magwaza to ultimately take over the church has never been answered.
Several weeks ago, the Cardinal told Pfleger that he was sending Father Matthew Eyerman to Saint Sabina to replace him and ordered him to take over the St. Leo High School. Reportedly, Ireland, who was scheduled to go to a West Side Catholic Church, didn’t want to go to Saint Sabina “under these circumstances.”
Pastor Pfleger ultimately agreed to bring the St. Leo’s “under the umbrella” of the Saint Sabina Church. Pfleger and his leadership never heard a word for the next 38-days until last week when the Cardinal suspended him. Sunday, the children danced and told their stories about how Pfleger has and continues to shape and mold their character, their spiritual life their careers, and is helping to heal their broken and crime-ridden communities.
Planned several weeks ago, Sunday was “Youth Day” at Saint Sabina where the children had a chance to show Pfleger their love and appreciation of how he has helped shaped their lives and holding the Jericho Walk was one of those visible ways they showed their love and appreciation of a man they said has been there for them day and night.
The mostly male participants marched around Saint Sabina Church, 1210 W. 78th Place, Chicago, Illinois six times and on the seventh time they shouted victory for peace and against violence. They also declared a victory for their embattled church leader, Father Pfleger, who remains on suspension.
Jonathan Travis, 17, said he grew up in the church. “Father Mike has been an non-fearing person being able to walk out into the community and not being afraid of fighting violence and gangs. He taught me to be comfortable of who I am of being able to walk with our faith and our passion knowing that God has my back….
“He’s really affected my life. I’ve been through some things. I’ve done some things, and he has always been there for me. He’s been there for every youth in the church and I appreciate him,” said Travis.
Travis was with Pfleger when he went on the marches to shutdown drug houses or to close down stores that sold drug paraphernalia. “Father Mike is one of very few priest that I know who pushes towards the will of God doing everything that the bible says and more. It (the suspension) really affects the community because he’s been able to build the Beloved Community.”
Asked what would happen if Pfleger were forced to leave the church, Travis said, “I think Father Mike should use all five years left of his priesthood” to remain at Saint Sabina.
Told by reporters that Pfleger was seen peeping out a cracked door adjacent to the choir area while the children were performing during church services, Cinque Cullar, Minister of Youth, said, “You can see that Father Mike is very proud of these people. You can tell he is in a place of peace.”
Mack Julion , head of the Young Adult Ministry, said, “The youth were mimicking everything that Father Pfleger stood for over his 30-years at Saint Sabina” including standing up against poverty, against gun violence, against injustices, against all the evils that come up against the Kingdom of God. I think that made Father Pfleger very proud.
“Father Pfleger has encouraged me, mentored me and played a vital role of why I am who I am today. Definitely seeing him (peeping out behind a partially cracked door) made me happy,” Julion said. Pastor Pfleger is banned from engaging in pastoral duties though the Cardinal allowed him to retain his title of Pastor.
Sophia Byrd, 12, a sixth grade students at Annie Keller Regional Gifted Center and a member of Saint Sabina, told reporters she too was angry upon learning about Pfleger’s suspension and had to breathe in and out to forgive and release her pent up emotions. She cited Psalms 38:6-9 Byrd said gave her relief.
Lena Allen, also a member of Saint Sabina, said: “Father Pfleger has proven himself. His teachings and actions are bringing us forward to God. He is the main artery. Love is everything. Christianity is love. Let’s forgive and go on. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? We want our Pastor at Saint Sabina. Our Pastor built us. He made us whole. He showed us when we were lost.”
Allen said what has happened to Pfleger “hurts all of those including all those who depend on Pastor Pfleger including the children. “Father Pfleger has shown 100 percent that he is a Christian. He has done what he was supposed to do. He’s not just about talk. He is about realism. I travel out of my way to come here because I know when a person is real. I feel God in his presence. I feel God in this church. I feel God in this congregation.”
She joined the call for the Archdiocese to remove the suspension. “I pray that they reach down in their heart and be true Christians and forgive and let us continue to be a family here. This (suspension) is like taking our father away,” said Allen. She said the suspension is destroying the church family.
Mack Julion, also spoke highly of Pfleger: “ He has removed alcohol and tobacco billboards that were targeting us. He has put his life on the line by marching through gang territory proclaiming that no more children are shot and killed by guns. He has been there to close down corner stores that were selling alcohol, tobacco and drug paraphernalia to children. He has been there to baptize us, to pray for us, to pray with us….”=
Julion said and Father Pfleger has helped assist and played a vital role in why saint Sabina Academy is still thriving today. Our pastor has raised the bar” of priesthood,” said Julion.
“A lot of us have grown up in the church. What the youth ministry did today was a showing of what Father Pfleger has helped to instill in us from birth to now. What was done today was a testament of our faith, and I believe that Father Pfleger is still our pastor and he is still our spiritual leader and we are praying for his return,” said Julion.
Asked if he saw Pfleger, who was seen peeping out of a side door near the choir area watching the children perform and if that affected his performance,” Julion said he had not performed on Sunday; however, he too saw Pfleger watching the children.
“I’m pretty sure the children saw him also and that it definitely affected their performance,” said Julion. “Seeing Father Pfleger for a lot of the youth is very encouraging…very uplifting. He encourages us on a daily basis….”
Standing proudly, groups of men and women stood holding flags on each of the corners surrounding Saint Sabina. The men marched around the church for a total of seven times before they noisily declared a victory for peace, a victory over violence, a victory over the suspension of Pastor Pfleger, and victory over the safety of children.
Julion joined the Jericho Walk and on the seventh round all of the men, which included Isador Glover head of Saint Sabina’s Parish Council, began screaming with some posted on the church stairs waving flags some of which read “JESUS,” another green flag indicating warfare, a white flag that represented the “Holy Spirit” and “Peace.” They said they were in a battle for peace.
The word for today was peace,” said Eric Harwell, a member of Saint Sabina’s Brotherhood. “It is peace to this situation (suspension of Father Pfleger.) Peace to the streets. It’s peace to the children. It’s peace to our finances. It’s peace. Jesus gave us a gift leading on the cross. He said, ‘This is my peace I give you. It is my peace that I leave with you; so the gift that Jesus has given us will get us through this and it’ll get us through that….
On the seventh walk-around the church, the men stood on the church stairs where Deacon Leonard Richardson prayed for Pastor Pfleger’s leadership and a positive resolve of his suspension. They also prayed for peace in the community and safety for the children.
Richardson’s daughter, Coretta Richardson-Pruitt, praised Pfleger for helping to change lives. “He has equipped all of us to be agents of change. I thank and praise God that he has given us the Holy Spirit…. We have the victory….”
Some of the men gave their testimony like Richard Garza who said, “God is our everything…. It’s a fixed fight. All we have to do is to step in the ring….” The men said they are ready to battle for Pastor Pfleger and for the future of their church and they don’t care how long it will take.
Harwell said last Friday he received word that there “was a shift going on in the rectory. “ He said the men called and held a prayer vigil at 8:30 p.m. Friday night and said some men didn’t leave until 3 a.m. “Folks who were not able to participate were angry about not getting the call to participate,” he said.
Harwell said the men would hold a similar prayer vigil 7 p.m. this Friday, May 6, 2011, in front of the rectory. “We are going to stand. It’s one thing to get the victory but like Pastor said it’s another thing to maintain the victory. So we have to maintain the victory. We are not going to let up. We’re going to keep going until it is so sealed that no one will remove it.
“Bring a grill. We’re going to pray. We’re going to dance. We did it all Friday night.” Harwell said last Friday the youth and Pastor were going down to Lower Wacker drive to tend to the homeless but before they left they prayed for them. “This Friday night, we’ll do the same thing for as long as it takes. Jesus went to a cross. We deserve to take advantage of every gift he has given us,” said Harwell.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.