Chicago priest urges residents to get involved
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent August 23, 2014 1:58PM
Rev. Michael Pfleger addressed the Annual King-Chavez Social Justice Event at the Genesis Center in Gary, IN., on Saturday, August 23, 2014. | John Smierciak/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 24, 2014 2:03AM
GARY — In the fire-brand style that has become his trademark, the Rev. Michael Pfleger told a packed room to do more than just pray about rashes of violence and injustices in their community and take matters into their own hands.
Like other speakers at the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations’ annual Martin Luther King-Cesar Chavez awards brunch Saturday at the Genesis Center, Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church, a Roman Catholic church in Chicago, linked violence in the streets of Northwest Indiana and the South Side of Chicago to the recent violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
Protests and riots have wracked the St. Louis suburb since a white police officer allegedly shot and killed an unarmed black teenager two weeks ago.
“The question I think we have to ask of people of faith is, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” Pfleger said. “How are we going to respond? How are we going to respond and act to this injustice we see around America? How is Ferguson going to wake us up in Indiana and Chicago and across this country? Some of us will be angry about what’s going on in Ferguson but do nothing about what’s going on in Indiana or the South Side of Chicago.
“We can’t just ignore what’s going on in Ferguson and ignore what’s going on in our own back yard.”
The federation is an organization of clergy and institutions working to address what they perceive as injustices in Northwest Indiana. After Pfleger’s comments, the energized group, singing “We Shall Overcome,” marched from the Genesis Convention Center to the steps of the adjacent Lake County courthouse and demanded more change.
They especially demanded changes in local policing and more jobs from the Regional Development Authority, which finances a number of large projects in the area.
While the federation lauded its members and handed out awards, Pfleger captured the attendees from his opening comments, demanding people of faith do more than just pray for change.
Pfleger joined St. Sabina as an associate pastor in 1975, becoming its pastor in 1981. His image and comments often appear in news stories and broadcasts in the Chicago and national media.
Before his sermon-like speech, Pfleger said unemployment, poverty and mass incarceration fill the streets of Northwest Indiana and Chicago.
Most people, including those filling churches, temples and mosques, choose to hope things will get better, become hopeless and give up or refuse to address issues that do not touch their homes, Pfleger said.
“None of those are solutions and none of those are acceptable, particularly for people of faith,” he said. “Whether we’re Muslims, Christians or Jews, our very, very holy books demand we be aggressively active, we be voices of change, we be the light and the salt of the earth. I think we’ve dropped the ball.”