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
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 email@example.com.
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/
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/.
2017-2018 Volunteer Hector Avitia
By Hector Avitia, Precious Blood Volunteer
“Oh man, I can’t wait to see their bubbles burst,” I said with a chuckle as I sipped my chicory coffee. It was a nice April afternoon in the Back of Yards Mexican restaurant La Cecina. Tim Deveney and I were discussing how the culture shock of working with marginalized populations was a “bubble” buster for many volunteers who just graduated college. The bubble symbolizes our world view based on our experiences. A lot of folks who have been fortunate enough to have had most of their needs met and only known about suffering through books and film, have their world view, or bubble, broken open when they meet suffering head on. As someone who had already been in the workforce for seven years and personally experienced poverty, discrimination, and fear of authorities as a child, I believed I was better equipped to handle the problems that the families of south side Chicago were going through. I was going to be the wise old man that guided the other volunteers through the landscape of suffering and sit back with a bag of popcorn as their bubbles burst into a million pieces.
Precious Blood Volunteers Hector and Leah on the International Day of Peace
Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) is a place of hope, healing, and radical hospitality. In order to achieve these goals, we must establish strong, meaningful relationships with those we serve. It is a long road filled with tons of bumps and detours because the folks of these communities have been living through ongoing trauma almost all of their lives. Trust is a commodity in this place where even friends and family have turned on each other, sometimes culminating into gun violence. The natural response from the human mind when these things happen is to be cautious of whom to trust. When anyone new comes into their lives, even when their intent is to help, their automatic response is to be careful and put up walls to protect themselves. Because of my background, I believed I had a shortcut to this process of fostering relationships with the young men that I was to be case managing. I think PBMR should have a warning sign outside of the door that reads “This is a place of hope, healing, and radical hospitality… Please leave your ego at the door.”
After only a few weeks into the volunteer experience, I had to come to the harsh reality that my own “tough” upbringing is nothing compared to the struggles of the people to whom we are ministering. One of my firsts tasks at PBMR involved helping a young family get on the road to stability. In order to protect their privacy, I cannot say much more, but I can say that I was completely overwhelmed by the obstacles they were facing. I imagined myself in their situation and what I would do to get ahead. Surely, I could give them great advice by putting myself in their shoes-but immediately I realized how their and my own scenarios were so very different. Even though financial resources were not always there, I always had around me a consistent group of people that loved me and who would do anything for me if I was in trouble. I never had to use their help because I didn’t have an emergency, and I became blind to the treasure that was my network of family and friends.
So, there I am, sitting in a room with a young family that was relying on my help and guidance to avoid homelessness with their young daughter. I was like a deer caught in headlights, stunned and unable to act. And this was supposed to be the “easy” case, something simple that would help ease me into dealing with tougher cases. If I was no good for them now, how was I supposed to be helpful to the rest of the guys I was case managing? How was I going to develop relationships with these young men if my only “Ace up my sleeve” was my not-so-harsh upbringing? I was too concerned with other people’s bubbles to see that my own bubble didn’t stand a chance.
Hector and Leah with a Peace Circle Group
While things seemed dark in this extremely young journey of service, God’s grace found a way to shine through. Fr. David Kelly gave a lecture to a group of students and faculty at the University of Notre Dame. In his talk he mentioned how, despite his many years of leading PBMR and being involved in the lives of those he serves, he has only stories to share. They are stories, because he was not the one going through the suffering. He recognizes that he can be empathetic, but there is no real way to completely suffer the same pain as those he serves. It became clear that having a similar past to those we help is not a qualification to build a positive and long-lasting relationship with them. What matters is to recognize this limitation and to still be willing to give your time and effort to help those in need. I like to think that when we encounter new people with different perspectives, then it is up to us to decide if these experiences burst our bubble, or if they help us grow that world view to encompass more people.
Hector is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.