Praying for a solution to gun violence

Chicago Archdiocese makes statement with "no guns" signs

October 10th, 2017 4:52 PM

Sending a message: Father Geoerge Omwando, pastor of St. Catherine-St. Lucy in Oak Park, has displayed "no guns" signs outside the church for years. The Archdiocese of Chicago issued a decree last month requiring all parishes to hang the signs. | Photo by Alexa Rogals

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The debate within the Chicago Archdiocese about displaying "no guns" signs on the doors of churches has been around for years, with some pastors choosing years ago to post the now ubiquitous signs seen on the doorways of businesses and restaurants.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, made it official in September, issuing a decree making the signs mandatory at all property controlled by the Archdiocese.

The decision is timely, considering it came about a month prior to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, with gunman Stephen Paddock firing thousands of rounds of ammunition into a crowd gathered for a country music show in Las Vegas, leaving 58 dead and about 500 injured.

"This policy is rooted in the belief that our churches, schools, administrative facilities or any other facilities owned, leased or operated by the Archdiocese are intended to be sites where people come to gather, pray and worship in safety and peace," Cupich wrote in the decree. "The intent of this policy is to balance the rights of all who approach Archdiocesan churches, schools or other facilities with the greatest possible protection for children, the elderly and otherwise vulnerable people of our society."

Intentional or not, the policy also has the effect of sending a message about the state of gun violence in Chicago.

Oak Park churches are taking different approaches to posting the signs — for some it's a message worth sending, for others the signs are an ugly reminder of the scourge of gun violence in modern life.

Rev. James F. Hulbert, pastor of Ascension Parish, 808 S. East Ave., sent a letter to parishioners following the announcement of the decree, noting, "Being greeted as we approach our church, with the entrances defaced by 4-inch by 6-inch images of a handgun with a red line drawn through it, is not what I would prefer for us and our children.

"None of us," he continued, "is going to rest easy thinking we will be safer or less likely to get shot in church."

"As I try to make peace with this new rule, my thought is to try to use these ugly signs as prompts to greater solidarity with those who have suffered from gun violence," he wrote. "Looking at the image of a pistol as I enter church, I will say a silent prayer for those whose lives have been upended by the criminal use of these weapons."

Hulbert said in a telephone interview that he sought an opinion from the Archdiocesan legal office and has since opted to display the sign in the vestibule, past the front door of the church.

He said he believes the new rule aims to show "solidarity toward anybody who's concerned about gun violence."

Rev. George Omwando, pastor of St. Catherine-St. Lucy Parish, 38 N. Austin Blvd., said in a telephone interview that his parish believes the signs make sense. The parishioners of Omwando's church, located on the border of Oak Park and the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, have greater exposure to gun violence, he said.

"Here we are very sensitive on the issue of guns and the impact it's had on people's lives," Omwando said, noting that a teenager was shot dead about a block away from St. Catherine-St. Lucy earlier this year.

Omwando said he placed a "no guns" sign prominently on the door of the church a few years ago. "You can't miss it," Omwando said, adding that it sends a strong message to the Austin community.

Rev. John McGivern, pastor of St. Edmund Parish, said his church posted the signs about two years ago. But unlike Ascension and St. Catherine-St. Lucy, the church chose to place the decals at the bottom of the door.

"We are believers in this; a church, school, hospital or public place is no place for weapons," McGivern said in a telephone interview. "In putting those stickers up, that's our way of saying we do not promote violence, and we do not support people bringing [guns] when they come to worship. It seems antithetical to what we're about."

McGivern acknowledged that there is likely "a political dimension to it, but there's also a theological, spiritual component."

"It has nothing to do with not supporting people's right to arm themselves — that's in our Constitution — but it's meant to [get people to] think about this at a deeper level," he said. "What does it mean to bring a weapon into a church or a school or a public place?

"I'm glad Cardinal Cupich has made this decision to make this mandatory throughout the Archdiocese."