For Means With

Thomas, center, working with others to set up a recording studio in a former bathroom at PBMR

by Thomas Weiss, Precious Blood Volunteer

I’m getting better at this. Summarizing, synthesizing, selecting particularly poignant moments laden with “spiritual significance.” My parents ask me to do this when I visit home. We sit around the kitchen table fidgeting with our coffee mugs and they, God bless them, ask me questions as if I’m returning from overseas. My friends on Chicago’s north side hush their voices when they ask me about my work day, like we are passing notes in the back row of middle school algebra. I hope Ms. Hopewell doesn’t catch us! Or, put on the individual level, it’s like a child flipping through the pages of forbidden fiction beneath the bedsheets, flashlight in a vice grip between incisors. The (mostly white) circle into which I was born is undeniably fascinated with my work, just a minute fraction of the labor Precious Blood clergy, lay workers, and Companions devote toward the ultimate renewal of the world. Needless to say, I am gladdened by their fascination. Many are even fascinated enough to offer generous donations, and for this, of course, I am delighted.

And yet, there’s a nagging dissatisfaction when the evening ends and I am alone. At the end of it all, I do not want your money: I want your allegiance.

The most outspokenly Catholic kid in my class at college proudly toted a MAGA hat around campus. His sweaters were Burberry, his shoes Sperry’s, his parka made from goose feathers. I believe he is now discerning the priesthood. After the shooting in Kenosha, another young lady from my college made sure to let me know that Jacob Blake was a rapist, and that Black Lives Matter’s founders were Marxists not to be trusted. She later invited me to Mass the following evening.

Let me be clear: I am not exempt from my own criticism. My parents gave me a car, debt free, on my sixteenth birthday. I attended highly privileged high school and university, never having to work a job outside of class to keep myself afloat. I went to summer church camps with water slides and power boats.

I’ve been to Europe on four different occasions. My family has vacationed in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Alaska. My story bears the indelible mark of unapologetic privilege.

I suppose that’s why I felt I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus last month, walking down Michigan Avenue.

A few of the boys I mentor at PBMR wanted to drive downtown to Millennium Park to see the Christmas lights. As we walked toward the park, we saw an old man, homeless, sitting on the sidewalk, his back curled up against the concrete retaining wall that runs along Michigan Avenue. The man was singing, wailing, head tilted up into the yellow street lights, colored intermittently with the red beams of brake lights. He jingled the coins in his Big Gulp like a tambourine.

One of the young men raced ahead of the group and dropped half of what he had in his pocket into the man’s cup. Another of the young men droped in a few bucks as we passed. They told him to stay safe and we walked on toward the Christmas tree. “Man, I just hate to see people like that,” one of them said to me. “If I make it to college, I’m going to open a homeless shelter. I hate to see people like that.”

I was dumbstruck by the unbridled Catholicism of these young men, neither of whom were religious. Both boys would be considered “poor” as we commonly understand the label. Yet, there they were, giving away their few and precious resources to a man they have never met before. I saw a mixture of the Good Samaritan and Mary Magdalene, anointing Jesus’ feet with her precious perfume.

Jesus was for the poor; this much is obvious. What I find to be often forgotten is that Jesus was poor. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus tells those of us with two tunics to give one away to those who have none. As if this were not explicit enough, he says to do the same with food. Fundamentally, Jesus means that to be for the poor is to break bread with the poor. It means giving beyond what makes us comfortable. It means giving $10 to a homeless man on Michigan Ave when you have $20 in your pocket. I ask myself daily what it means for me, and I ask the same of you.

To give a sizable amount of cash can change lives. It ferries resources into resource-scare areas. It opens doors which were formerly closed. But the real act of service stems from the realization of equivalence: just as Christ “emptied himself ” and took on the flesh of us sinners, we must realize our kinship with the beaten, hungry, weary, and alienated. Though we are not Christ, together we might become like Christ through allegiance to one another. This is the call of Christ, not toward judgment, skepticism, and cowardice, but toward radical hope, healing, and hospitality.

We—the privileged, the well-fed, the comfortable—risk the fate of the Pharisees if we do not soon recognize that Jesus’ teaching explicitly commands us to eradicate the existence of privilege. The ball is in our court, and the stakes are high. I pray that we, stirred by courage and humility, may sift through the distractions and delusions which obscure the substance of the Gospel: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This reflection originally appeared in the January 2021 edition of the “New Wine Press.”

Thomas is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.

Is There Any Hope?

by Sr. Donna Liette, ASC, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation

The other day, after the murder of two of our youth, the realization that a dedicated pbmr donor is critically ill with brain cancer, several center break-ins, and violent outbursts among participants, I asked Fr. Dave Kelly, “Is there any hope?” In his gentle way, he reminded me of our mission of being agents of hospitality, hope, and healing and allowing the chaos of our ministry to transform us.

A few hours later we had our weekly staff meeting and we read the passage about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The people had gathered to hear and see Jesus, but also to be healed. Many were healed, but the even greater miracle was within the crowd. As the food was shared and hospitality offered, there was abundance and the people began to see each other differently. A community of trust, of love and hope began to emerge.

Then Fr. Kelly asked us, “Where have you seen hope in this pbmr community?” The stories we told brought tears to our eyes and bursts of laughter—had we only thought to record those stories.

Angelica told the joy of helping one of our participants move into his own place with his mother. He had worked hard in the Woodshop to earn the money, and there they stood, proud in their new home with furniture and all. hopes were fulfilled.

Fred told of talking to the mother of one of his participants, one of our youngest. The mother is so happy about the change in her son; she sees the hopes she had for her son coming alive at home.

Dave told of one of our youth, Joe, presently incarcerated, calling because he was feeling down. After talking to a few staff as the phone was passed around, he said, “I feel so much better.” Connection made—hope.

Fr. Denny shared the joy and hope he experiences when guys from years past come back and tell how their lives have changed—jobs and housing found, the positive lifestyles—and they are so deeply grateful for their time at pbmr.

Artrice, Sr. Janet, and I work with the mothers and see their joy as they grow in their healing, in their desire to further their education and to grow spiritually.

Many stories were told of the hope that our “Hospitality House” for men returning from prison after 20+ years has brought, not only to the three men now living there but to all of us.

Hector had a great hope story. He described the evening a pottery class joined the pbmr screen printing business in the Mother Brunner basement, a tight space already shared with laundry facilities. Then one of Hector’s pbmr youth got a little agitated with the intrusion of these “younger” boys. The story ends with this agitated youth showing a younger potter the skill he has learned. Well now, agitation turns to pride and he was all in and happy to be sharing space, talent, and “big brother” stuff! Hope.

There were many more stories. Some you can read in our monthly e-newsletter along with wonderful photos of hope and healing.

Today, as I prayed with the Jesuit and companion Martyrs of El Salvador, there was a reading from Jon Sobrino. (Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador). He writes, “It is not easy to keep on hoping…it seems that everything is against hope…but together with the great love Jesus showed and these martyrs had, there are the faces of the poor, in which God is hidden but nevertheless present, asking us to keep going, a request we cannot ignore.”

So, during this coming season of Advent—this season of hope and waiting—let us look for hope, for love, and create in our own homes, workplaces, and churches a spirit of hope and love. Where there is great love, there is hope. It is the call of the blood of Christ. Ω

Making Impressions

Saiveon and Branden begin their training


by Hector Avitia, Precious Blood Volunteer
During this Easter season we are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus after being in the tomb for three days. At Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), we are also celebrating the return of the screen printing program, known as “Making Impressions.” This initiative is a great way for PBMR participants to learn a new skill, to express themselves through a different art medium, and for those outside of PBMR to give hope to the community.

The very first shirt from”Making Impressions”


“Making Impressions” is ready to make custom screen printed shirts for clubs and organizations. Coming soon, “Making Impressions” and PBMR apparel will be available for anyone to show their support for our ministry and for the youth of Back of the Yards. You can contact PBMR about the “Making Impressions” program by email at makingimpressions@pbmr.org.
 
 
 
 

Strong, Unified, and Here to Stay


by Leah Landry, current Precious Blood Volunteer
The women of PBMR. Not a phrase you hear often at a Center started by four priests as a safe haven for young men. But over the past few years, the women in the neighborhood have become vital members of the PBMR community. On Saturday, February 3, these women gathered together to christen the new Mother Brunner House – the Women’s Center – with a mural that depicts the strength, serenity, and power of the women of PBMR.
The project included women from three programs at PBMR: the women of the advocacy group Community and Relatives of Illinois’ Incarcerated Children (CRIIC), the women from the Mothers’ Healing Circles who have lost children to incarceration and gun violence, and the Young Women’s Group, the newest program for women.
With the help and direction of PBMR’s teaching artist, Alberto Alaniz, the women gave suggestions of the words and images that come to mind when they think of the women of PBMR. The answers were as varied as the women themselves: unity, strength, love, hearts and stars, peace signs, mother and child. Then representatives from each program consulted with Alberto and together the group came up with the image for the wall. A few weeks later, over 20 women gathered at the Mother Brunner House to paint in the image.
You’d think a room full of 20 women, ranging from ages 6 to 80, painting a huge space with lots of color would be a chaotic scene, but the space had a peaceful, collaborative, and happy feel.
Mrs. Wingard, the eldest and wisest in the group and a member of CRIIC, shared her reflections on the day: “Just to remember that I put a paintbrush on the wall and Fr. Kelly and Julie and Sr. Donna are gonna walk through there and see the mural and I thought ‘Wow, I really feel a part of that’…And then to think about them getting the house and putting something on the wall that actually reaches out to the community. [The mural] shows families coming together and it’s not just one ethnicity. It’s not just black, not just white, not just latino: it’s everyone coming together for a common cause, for our children, for our community.”
Shumeka Taylor, a representative of the Young Women’s Group, said that putting the handprints and quotes on the wall was her favorite part. “The hands was so nice. We all who had been doing the part of the wall and engraving our names and a nice quote and that’s something that’s going to live forever in the house and I like that.” Shumeka added “From the older women to the young women, I truly enjoyed it. The older lady put the French braid in my hair while I painted the rest of the mural because they didn’t want paint to get in my 26 inches. I greatly appreciated everything that went on that day.”
Aldena Brown, a member of the Mothers’ Healing Circles, felt Helen Keller’s quote “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much” captured the essence of the day.  “That day of the painting felt good. Everyone working together, good laughs, music, and food! That moment was like nothing mattered. Painting that mural was everything, just being a part of something so meaningful. That gave my heart joy and peace in that moment.  My mind drifted to a great place pushing that paintbrush. Yes, I must say that will be a day I’ll never forget! I was a part of that painting coming to life! I’m very thankful!”
The women of PBMR are leaving their legacy all over PBMR and the neighborhood, from the relationships they make to the steps they take towards their goals to the beautiful mural that will greet all the visitors of the Center. From now on, every person who walks through the doors of the Mother Brunner House will know that the women in the community are an integral part of PBMR: strong, unified, and here to stay.
 
 
You can learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer by going to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org 
You can learn more about our placement at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation by going to https://preciousbloodkc.org/precious-blood-ministry-of-reconciliation/ 

PBMR and Precious Blood Volunteers at the Kroc Institute

Father Dave Kelly, C.PP.S. speaking at the Kroc Institute


Father Dave Kelly, C.PP.S.’s speech from October 2017 at the Kroc Institute for Peace at the University of Notre Dame was recently profiled on the Kroc Institute’s website. Father Kelly spoke about restorative justice and the work of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR).
Current Precious Blood Volunteer, Leah Landry, was quoted in the article and spoke about her work with the Young Women’s Group at PBMR. You can read the profile at https://kroc.nd.edu/news-events/news/restorative-justice-helps-rehabilitate-tough-chicago-neighborhoods/.
You can learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at PBMR at https://preciousbloodkc.org/precious-blood-ministry-of-reconciliation/.