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Father Michael Pfleger tells Gary faithful to be game-changers

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Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago, leads faithful in prayer during the annual parish revival at Ss. Monica and Luke in Gary on Sept. 18. The 71-year-old activist priest challenged believers to be voices for their neigborhood concerns. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

by Anthony D. Alonzo

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      GARY – As soon as the Ss. Monica and Luke annual parish revival began, the question billed as the theme of the gathering ­– “Why are we here?” – was addressed. The faithful were first invited to be a part of song and testimony, then were provided with a practical answer: They are in this world to be “game-changers.”

      Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina on Chicago’s South Side, was the keynote speaker of the church’s revival on Sept. 18. The activist priest, known nationally for his campaigns to ameliorate conditions in underserved neighborhoods, told the faithful that acceptance of the status quo has long contributed to a mess of poorly-performing schools, poverty and crime.

      Setting the stage for Father Pfleger’s address, a musical interlude was performed by a Gary parishes combined choir, as well as musicians and vocalists from Ss. Monica and Luke intra-diocesan sister parish, St. John the Evangelist in St. John.

      Praise ministry choreographer Lauren Blackwell, 24, of Gary, performed an interpretive dance, and then gave an emotional testimony about the loss of her brother, who was gunned down in June.

      “Stay in the Word of God and stay close to God,” Blackwell said. “Make sure you have a support group, so you don’t have to take on everything by yourself. Staying close to your church family helps a lot.”

      Ss. Monica and Luke parish life director Michael Cummings offered a prayer for the revival’s guest speaker, who was making his first appearance at the Gary church.

      “Father we have gathered here from different places to hear a word from you, we ask that you anoint Father Pfleger tonight – set his lips and heart on fire that he may speak a word from you that will reach each and every one of us,” Cummings said. 

      Father Pfleger, who was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1975, became the youngest pastor in the archdiocese when he was appointed to lead St. Sabina in 1981. He has ministered in predominantly African-American neighborhoods since 1968, and has garnered awards for his sometimes controversial activism from the archdiocese, universities and from civil rights organizations, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  He has appeared on a broad spectrum of media, from TV’s “60 Minutes,” to USA Today. 

      “Blessed is the name of the Lord. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” Father Pfleger said to begin his presentation. “I come from 79th street in Chicago, so I’m from the hood. . .It’s a blessing to come here and be with you.”

      Father Pfleger read the day’s Scripture from Luke 7:11, about Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead.

      “God’s heart was moved,” Father Pfleger explained. “Jesus stopped the coffin; he interrupted traffic. I’m glad to know that. Jesus interrupted a death march and he brought forth life.”

      “Why are we here?” Father Pfleger asked softly.

      He continued with his voice rising in a crescendo: “We don’t just come to church to worship Jesus; we come to church to become like Jesus.”

      And Jesus, he said, “was a game-changer.”

      Speaking to his view of the overall efforts of the Church in the modern world, Father Pfleger was critical of what he described as a “spiritual laryngitis.” He said Christians have largely surrendered their role as salt of the earth.

      “We don’t need more people on Facebook, because Facebook ain’t changin’ nothing. . .we don’t need more armchair quarterbacks. We need people who are ready to change the game,” Father Pfleger said.

      Father Pfleger continued by pointing to a problem that has really hit home. He described Chicago as the “poster boy” for street violence and in need of more than “another study or blue-ribbon committee.”

      He advocated “calling out” government officials, business leaders and entertainers. Passive petitions to God may get the response from heaven: “Wait, hold on a minute, you’re asking me to do this?

      “My prayer is that when I die, I would be all used up,” said Father Pfleger. “I want to get to heaven and have God say, ‘Your storage room is empty, you used everything, and you did all that you could do. You made a difference.’”

      Gary resident and radio talk show host Natalie Ammons said it was fulfilling to hear the revival messages.

      “It was awesome,” Ammons said. “Sometimes you look for a confirmation that you’re doing the right thing, and God has a way of sending it to you. So the message tonight meant stay on the path you’re on.”

 

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Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago, expounds on the theme "Why are we here?" at the annual parish revival at Ss. Monica and Luke in Gary on Sept. 18. The 71-year-old priest, known for his activism in underserved Chicago neighborhoods, urged Catholics and other Christians to not become comfortable, rather people should challenge the status quo and demand respect because as temples of the Holy Spirit, "God lives in me." (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

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A woman applauds during a presentation by Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago, at the annual parish revival at Ss. Monica and Luke in Gary on Sept. 18. The 71-year-old activist priest said residents should challenge politicians, business leaders and entertainers to focus on positive messages and productive actions to help overlooked people. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

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Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago, embraces Gary resident Gloria Purnell during the annual parish revival at Ss. Monica and Luke in Gary on Sept. 18. Father Michael Pfleger reminded the faithful that they are "the salt of the earth," and must strive to make an impact on the lives of those aroudn them. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

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Ss. Monica and Luke Praise Dance Ministry choreographer Lauren Blackwell performs an interpretive  dance during the annual parish revival at the Gary church on Sept. 18. During the event featuring a presentation by Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago, Blackwell testified about the importance of having a Church family to lend support in light of her mourning the loss of her brother who was gunned down in June. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

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