We didn’t march; we didn’t protest; we didn’t scream and yell. We processed.
On the Monday of Holy Week, April 2nd, more than 1,500 faithful from around the City of Chicago participated in a prayerful, four mile long, liturgical procession called CROSSwalk to call attention to the almost 650 young people killed in the City of Chicago since 2008.
Beginning with an opening ecumenical liturgy at St. James Episcopal Cathedral, in which Cardinal George participated, we processed to Daley Plaza, Old St. Pats, and Stroger Hospital. Prayer, singing, testimonies, even a music video, filled each stop. City and Church leaders spoke eloquently about violence against youth. Mothers told of their dead sons and daughters. Community members lamented the young lives destroyed on the streets of our city, a city that, much like Jerusalem of old, cries out because of the blood of her children.
As God heard the blood of Abel in Genesis, we must hear the blood of these slain children. We must hear God addressing us as he did Cain: “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10) By virtue of our humanity, let alone our baptism, these dead children are our brothers and sisters. Almost 650 killed in the last four years. What have we done? What have we not done?
Many of us, myself included, respond like Cain. We divert responsibility and get defensive: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) I didn’t pull the trigger or wield the blade. I have my own family to worry about and my own neighborhood to protect.
When I used to teach this story and the rest of what’s often called the “primeval history” (those wonderfully powerful narratives of Genesis 1-11) I would tell my students that these stories are not so much about what happened, but about what always happens. When faced with our own individual and collective sinfulness we make excuses rather than seek forgiveness. Cain learned this from his father, Adam, who blamed Eve and God for his own sinful act of eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “The women whom you [God] put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12)
We are Cain; we are Adam. But, thank God and thanks to God, that is not the end of the story! Our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus (see Romans 6) opens up a radically new possibility. The grace of Jesus Christ, mediated sacramentally by the Church, allows us to overcome our futile desire to avoid responsibility or punishment so that we might instead seek mercy and justice. Before God said anything to Adam or Cain about responsibility or punishment, he asked them questions: “Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat?” (Genesis 3:11) “Where is your brother Abel?” (Genesis 4:9) You think God didn’t know the answers to these questions before posing them?
When God asks these questions, He creates space for repentance. It’s a remarkable act of love extended to humanity when we are least deserving of it. This is the most important function of CROSSwalk and all authentic work being done to stem violence against youth: proclaim the possibility of repentance. Hear the voice of God asking: What have you done to protect these least of mine?