Written by Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America
As a new Catholic, even I had heard of the infamous Father Pfleger. I remember watching Fox News back in 2008 when this Chicago South Side Catholic priest proudly proclaimed that he supported then-Senator Barack Obama for President and was even on his Catholics for Obama advisory committee. I remember his sermon at President Obama’s church where he railed against Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Obama’s opponent in the Democratic primary, and her “whiteness.” I remember his public defense of Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan, both racists in my opinion.
However, this March, I had the opportunity to hear Fr. Pfleger speak to a well-to-do group in Chicago. I came to the meeting prepared, having done my research earlier in the day reading news stories and taking screen shots of some of Fr. Pfleger’s more anger-filled and alienating Facebook posts and tweets. (I’ve pasted just a couple of recent ones here so you can get the gist.)
During his presentation, he spoke about a man who had once put a $10,000 “hit” out on him. Fr. Pfleger said it all started when he and parishioners from St. Sabina began walking every Friday night through their gang-infested neighborhood. Knowing it’s the time most likely for violence, they’ve taken the streets to stop it. During the walks, Fr. Pfleger reported that he often calls out the names of those criminals who are leading the violence in the area. He regularly called out this gentleman’s name.
Fr. Pfleger spoke about how one Friday night this gentleman, his name was “Cartoon,” drove up and while his parishioners were scared for his life, Fr. Pfleger went up to his car to ask how he could help. This notorious gang-banger said he wanted to change and needed help.
He then went on to say how this gang member started showing up every Sunday at church and turned in his guns to Father Pfleger. He was beginning to turn his life around. But then, this January, he was shot and killed, retaliation for something he had done in his past.
Fr. Pfleger then told the story about what it felt like to preside over this man’s funeral Mass and remarked that while he knew “Cartoon” he knew the man behind the gang name even more.
That’s exactly how I felt after listening to Fr. Pfleger. Going to the event, I thought I knew the Fr. Pfleger who regularly inflames racial and political tension on his social media accounts and insults, those “Right Wing Tea Party Extremists” like me. But after, even though he didn’t care for my direct questions during the Q&A, I felt like I knew Michael.
I knew the Michael who has given 40 years of his life fighting for justice and peace for those in the inner-city of Chicago. I knew the Michael who employs young black men all summer long to help them stay out of gangs. I knew the Michael who leads a food bank, job training program, elementary school, and safe homes for foster children out of his church.
While I don’t think Fr. Pfleger and I will ever agree on politics and our choice for who should lead the country, I do believe there is something there. There is common ground to be found. And I think it’s a lesson for many of us to keep in mind, especially this election year where political divisions are causing many I know to lose relationships with friends and family members simply because of their support for various candidates, usually via their social media postings.
Let us remember to keep in mind that there is a real person behind the social media posts. Let’s remember that we all want to the same thing – a safe, secure and prosperous nation that cares for the least of these among us. Let us be kind. Speak charitably about those on the “other side.” And let us seek ways to build bridges instead of tearing them down.