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Chicago residents seek refuge after violence

BY SUSAN KIM | Chicago, IL | June 27, 2000

After a shooting in a crowded park on Sunday evening, South Side residents sought refuge -- often simply a place to sit down and talk -- within community

facilities and local churches.

Three people were arrested for shooting and wounding eight people near a basketball court in Jackson Park around 8 p.m. Sunday evening, when the area

was packed with families. Witnesses said that many people ran for their cars while others hit the ground to avoid the spray of bullets.

While police continue an investigation and try to determine if the shooting was gang-related, South Side residents are holding discussion forums to try to

answer their own questions of 'why.'

Discussions of community issues -- including public violence -- often arise at Interfaith House, said Jeff Pickering, development director. Interfaith House is a

Chicago-based nonprofit that offers a 60-bed respite program designed to offer a place of healing for homeless men and women who are ill or injured by

providing on-site medical and social service care.

Though sponsoring public discussion forums is not its main program goal, Pickering said that educational sessions often center around community issues.

"We provide a forum for people to talk about public violence," he said. "Unfortunately some of our clients have been victims of violent crime. So we think it's

important to have staff available who are trained to talk about that."

Pickering added that nonprofit groups and churches who want to respond to public violence can play an advocacy role by raising public awareness about

issues such as gun control. "The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless held a demonstration and we participated as a show of advocacy for the homeless," he

said. "You can play the same sort of advocacy role with issues related to public violence."

Interfaith House began as a project of the Interfaith Council for the Homeless, a group of leaders who felt that religious communities should take some

responsibility for caring for the homeless. The program serves some 600 homeless people annually and also provides opportunities for volunteerism within

the community.

Claretian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers, is another faith- based community group that responds to public

violence in Chicago and elsewhere. Focusing on the broad issues of justice, peace, and the environment, the Claretians also work in inner cities.

The group's goal is to respond to urgent spiritual and material needs in a timely fashion. In Chicago, the Claretians give special focus to the needs of recent

immigrants, youth and families, leadership training, and spiritual renewal.

Churches and spiritual leaders can play a crucial role in the wake of public violence, accidents, or other emergencies, said Terry Germann, director of clergy

care for Lutheran Social Services. Germann traveled to Texas A&M University one month after the tragic collapse of a bonfire in November 1999 that killed

11 people and injured 28. There he ministered to clergy and to families of the dead and wounded. "I think the hospital personnel try to do some of this

ministry but it becomes difficult. So sending someone in to help with that ministry works well."

Germann said he also responded when a gunman opened fire at a youth religious rally in Fort Worth, TX. "I didn't travel to Fort Worth but instead I

contacted Lutheran clergy there and I asked them what they might need, and I talked to them."

Sometimes families need pastoral counseling or spiritually-based comfort immediately after an incident of public violence, an accident, or another disaster,

added Germann. "We need to train more people to work with congregations in crisis and conflict," he said. "I think that would be extremely helpful."

In the wake of a public shooting like the one in Jackson Park, Germann said that children who witnesses the shooting often suffer from trauma that gets

overlooked. He also said that, if local churches sponsored public discussions, people would probably respond well.

Pastoral response to public violence is familiar to the Rev. Iris Goshay, a pastor at the Covenant Church of Pittsburgh who comforted people in the wake of

a shooting in Wilkinsburg on March 1 in which three people were killed. The gunman opened fire on employees and customers in a McDonald's restaurant,

among other public sites. Covenant Church is within a block of the McDonald's.

"People from McDonald's were ushered into our hospitality room," remembered Goshay. "Then one of our pastors called the Ministerial Association and

told the local clergy to come together here. We didn't have experience in responding to that type of incident. Sometimes I feel like the whole response was

orchestrated by God."

At least six restaurant employees, their families, and other community members met at the church. Local pastors also went to area hospitals to visit the

critically injured people and their families.

In the weeks following that shooting, the Wilkinsburg Ministerial Association sponsored a community-wide prayer walk, family counseling, and a

community church service that all focused on reconciliation.

The Wilkinsburg pastors said that the bonds created by their six-year-old association helped them respond in a rapid and cohesive manner. The alliance was

formed in 1994 to address, among other challenges, youth violence in Wilkinsburg.

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