Circling around the neighborhood opening doors

Sister Donna Liette, right, and Kelsey Tarr lead a peace circle at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation Center, Chicago, in 2013. Photos by Dave Eck.

It is December 8, 2015 and Pope Francis has just opened the Jubilee Door in Rome and proclaimed a year of Mercy! In Chicago, Peace Circles were being formed around the city as a way of participating in a “City-Wide Day of Healing.” Several years ago PBMR was one of the Chi­cago groups that initiated this City-Wide Day of Healing.

Continuing to seek healing around the city, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) offered seven healing circles throughout the day. In the early morning we gathered with women in the nearby shel­ter and listened to their stories of the pain of being forgotten, of being lonely, abused and left with all the responsibilities of parenthood. As they held the “talking piece” they shared their struggles of finding jobs and safe housing for their chil­dren. They cried for healing, for love, for the comforts of a home. I once read: “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” We saw this in the faces of the women as we concluded the circle in the back room of the neighborhood shelter.

Due to the recent events in Chicago with videos and reports of police brutality, we invited our District 9 Police officers to join us at PBMR in a healing circle with the hope of “opening doors” to more positive relationships between police officers and our youth and their families. A circle of 15 very diverse people came together at PBMR with the three police officers. After the opening ritual and check-in, it became a safe place where youth could speak of their experiences of racial pro­filing, where a woman of privilege could speak of her need to sit and listen to the woman next to her suffering from extreme poverty and fear, where police officers spoke openly of their struggles, as one said, “where do I begin?” The police of­ficers told of their being mothers, wives, daugh­ters, “Black” (African Ameri­can) before being “Blue” (po­lice officers). Mothers spoke of losing a child to gun violence; another losing her son to years of incarceration when he was only 14; another spoke of los­ing her son to the streets. After 90 minutes, we asked that each circle participant say a word or two of how they were leaving – “inspired, honored, heard, thankful, hopeful, relentless determination, healed.”

Several minutes later, we knocked on the barred door at the Corner Store, known for drug activity and recent nearby killings, and it was opened to us and to the corner neighborhood – gang mem­bers, mothers, dads and the neighborhood homeless, some in wheelchairs paralyzed from gunshots. We stood in circle around Daniel in his wheel­chair and as the talking piece (a wrapped cookie from the store shelf) went round the circle you could feel the group bonding, listening to one another’s fears, frustrations, concerns for peace and heal­ing. This is our neighborhood – as Daniel pleaded, “lift us up – don’t put us down.”

I felt the challenge of being in this neighborhood where violence is an everyday thing and people live in poverty and fear and isolation. Over and over from each of these circles we heard, “We needed this.”

We walked a few more blocks to our PBMR art gallery and as we opened that door, we saw men and women gath­ered, all who had experienced the sentencing of their child to life imprisonment. Today the Rice family had a story to tell – on December 1st, Gerald Rice, their son, who was sen­tenced to “life without parole” in 1985 at the age of 17, was now re-sentenced to 60 years, which with good time he has to now serve only 30 years. Gloria Rice, Gerald’s mother, with a smile that stretched from ear to ear, announced Gerald would be coming home on February 18, 2016! Tears flowed as all of the family members were so overjoyed for Gerald and his family. Gerald is now 47 and will soon be starting his new life outside prison walls. For 30 years Gerald’s family visited him, wrote him, supported him and never gave up hope and faith that someday Ger­ald would be home. Now “someday” is almost here!

It was a day of hope as we joined with those in Rome and throughout the city and world, opening doors, offering healing and mercy and tender­ness. It is a jubilee year and as men and women of the Pre­cious Blood, are we not even more challenged to heal and to offer tenderness in our broken world. OPEN DOORS!

Story by Sister Donna Liette

Sister Donna Liette is a restor­ative justice practitioner at Pre­cious Blood Ministry of Recon­ciliation (PBMR) in Chicago. This article originally appeared in PBMR’s New Creation column.

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