My mom is approaching 90 and she's sharing many memories these days. She's always been a storyteller, but recently I'm hearing some special ones. Today, on Mother's Day morning, she told me that her father died on Ascension Thursday, 79 years ago in Poland. She was ten, the oldest of three at the time and she was walking home from Mass when neighbors informed her, my aunt and uncle that their father had died at home. Her mother was at my grandfather's side when he passed.
My mom also experienced the loss of two infant siblings prior to her father's passing. She was holding one little brother when he died. Death is traumatic to families. Violent death is traumatic to communities.
I'm not sure why, but her story made me think of a childhood friend. I use that term loosely because we were only occasionally on good terms. He was a troubled kid from a more troubled family. We'll call him Tim. Tough and often raging, Tim was not at the top of anyone's list, unless you were going to a brawl. This guy had a way of finding evil anywhere and punching it in the face in a fit of mania. At 18, he and some running buddies spied a few young women stranded on the roadside. They recognized one of them and pulled over to help. It wasn't long before another carload of young men joined the rescue effort. The boys began to argue over the girls. In the second car was a gun. It quickly found its way into the hands of one of the passengers, the son of a Detroit cop. Tim died that day, on the side of the road in the Motor City.
Friday afternoon I looked in my driver's side mirror and spied a sign right in the middle of the reflection, "Stop the Violence" it screamed, with a clenched fist raised amidst a bursting graphic explosion. I was parked at Precious Blood Ministries of Reconciliation (PBMR) in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Southside Chicago. In just one hour, I learned so much that day about the restorative justice initiative at PBMR, but I was just beginning to scratch the surface. Besides the Catholic priests and nuns who operate this ministry in this notoriously tough community, many of the staff members are ex-cons, gang members or formerly involved with courts due to violence. They are experts on the experience of incarceration for juveniles because they've lived it. Mentoring is among the many services provided here, where a traumatized teen or young adult, whose already been convicted, can find a safe and welcoming place. A place to learn that crime is far more than an act that broke a law, it violated relationships. Relationships with individuals. With families and the community. With God.
Their crimes traumatized their community. Relationships and peace were shattered. Communities depend on relationships and peace to thrive, just as families do.
You don't learn that in prison. It's not a peaceful place. You can only learn peace and reconciliation if someone bothers to teach you. Maybe this is why Jesus, hanging from the cross, the victim of violence and betrayal said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
We really don't understand, we don't know what we're doing when it comes to justice and restoring relationships. I'm looking forward to learning.