by Fr. Dave Kelly, C.PP.S., Director, PBMR
“It is believed,” the Archbishop of Chicago said to five youth of Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, “that wherever the bishop is, there is the Church. 2.2 million Catholics are with you at this moment; tonight we are the Catholic Church of Chicago.”
On Saturday evening, March 7th, Archbishop Blase Cupich came to Cook County Juvenile Detention Center to celebrate the Confirmation of five young men who are 16 and 17 year olds. Jovany, Joshua, Marvin, Pedro, and Joseph are being tried as adults. Amidst the strain and stress of the possibility of spending many years in prison, they wanted and worked hard to better understand their Catholic faith. Through the guidance and teaching of Mike Donovan, one of the volunteers with Kolbe House and Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, the Archbishop of Chicago confirmed them. As one of the kids said, “pretty cool, huh?”
Archbishop Cupich’s presence and his pastoral and open attitude won the hearts of everyone. He greeted the sheriffs as he came into the facility, stopping to speak with each one. As he went upstairs to the visitation area, he stopped to speak to the families who were waiting to visit their children. Making his way through the facility and into the chapel area, even before he took off his coat, he immediately went over and introduced himself to the youth and their families who were grateful and overwhelmed that the Church had not forgotten them. His presence and attitude demonstrated that this was not about the Archbishop; this was about youth who, though locked up, were part of the Catholic family.
In his homily, he said he was going to mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross using the Holy Chrism, which means Christ. The Cross he placed on their forehead wasn’t the Cross of Christ, but it was their Cross: it was the pain and hurt that they carried. He said the Holy Chrism is used because Christ meets us precisely in those moments of pain and disappointment.
He spoke of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, the Gospel of the day. She came out in the heat of the day, whereas most came early in the morning when it was cool, because others did not accept her. She couldn’t join the other women as they came to the well because of how she was looked upon. “She believed what they said about her”, he said. “She believed deep in her heart that she was not worthy, that her sin had made her a bad person–worthless.” He told these five young men, dressed in their jail garb, that neither should they believe the hurtful or harmful things that people might say of them, nor should they believe that they are bad people. “God the Father and Son comes to you in the Holy Spirit because of his love for you. Believe it,” he said. “This sacrament is a gift because it relieves you of the burdens you carry and calls you a son of God. You receive, in this sacrament, a love that no one can take from you.”
It is said that the worse form of torture is isolation: the feeling no matter how loud you cry out, no one hears you, you are invisible to the world. The visit by the Archbishop of Chicago broke through isolation and darkness and, if what the Archbishop said is true, for that brief time the whole Catholic Church of Chicago was celebrating as the Holy Spirit dispelled the overwhelming darkness and ignited the light within these five young men and their families. And, as we know, that fire will never be extinguished.
On March 7th, in the once dark detention center, a light broke through the darkness and as the Archbishop said, “I needed this, we, as Church needed this, and none of us will be the same.”
He spoke of how this is where the Church needs to be: with the forgotten, the thirsty, the hurting, our children.
After the celebration, Archbishop Cupich took pictures with the youth and their families, and the many staff who wanted to have their picture taken with him as well. He shared a meal with the kids, their families, staff and volunteers. He remarked to one of the youth that he was really looking forward to being here with them and how he wanted to do a good job, and quipped, “you know jobs are hard to come by these days; I don’t want to lose mine!”