By Gordon Nary
Gordon: As as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica and director of the National Shrine of St. Peregrine, your work has been documented in many articles. Here is one by Dolores Madlener of The Catholic New World that provides a great overview of your life and ministry. You conducted a retreat titled “Healing Blessings” in November 2015 at the Diocese of Wichita. Could you provide an overview of the issues you discussed?
Father Chris: The "Healing Blessings" retreat was at the Diocesan Life Spirituality Center in Wichita, Kansas. Fifteen people were present and we spoke about healing in the context of our Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. Many people enjoyed it especially for the one-on-one conference time. It was a very "Holy Spirit" time together and God's healing was truly felt.
Gordon: Being a hospital chaplain, especially for people with life-threatening cancer, must have many rewards as well as challenges. Could you comment on some of the more difficult challenges that you have faced?
Father Chris: Some of my most difficult challenges were to work with families that have to live with uncertainty when the chemo treatments are not working well for their loved ones. Also I tried to help the staff through grief when a patient died or when there was a great build up of stress in the clinic of the hospital
Gordon: You are a recognized leader in art therapy for people with serious illness. Could you explain this program?
Father Chris: The program of art therapy is invaluable in that it helps the client to make visible what is invisible inside their lives. The creative process helps them to tell their story of where it hurts or where to enhance their lives. The therapist is a wonderful, healing facilitator to help the client to unfold great realities that sometimes are locked up in our inner self. Also we are thereto help clients enjoy the art making process of making something "Special".
Gordon: When did you first become interested in art and when did you learn about how to use art therapy for people for whom you care?
Father Chris: I always say that I was born with a package of crayons from my mother's womb. I inherited the love of art making from my father Leonard and my grandmother Mary. When I was in my forties, I learned about the Masters program of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and accomplished my degree in their two year program.
Gordon: In a world where comic superheroes appear to have replaced some of our saints, more and more people with cancer and/or who have family or friends with cancer turn to St. Peregrine for help. Could you share with our readers how deviations to St. Peregrine have helped so many people?
Father Chris: Devotions to God through the intercession of St. Peregrine have become very popular because we all need a positive, faith handle on prayer, blessings and finding spiritual companions along our own pilgrim journey. St. Peregrine's name means pilgrim and he is a real companion to be with us through any bad news of serious illness like cancer, heart disease and any mind, body, spirit and soul need for healing from God. We always include, Jesus, Blessed Mary and good St. Peregrine in our prayers to God with the blessing of the relic of St. Peregrine.
Gordon: Could you comment on the reason for and the history of the National Shrine of St. Peregrine? Can you estimate how many people visited the shrine annually?
Father Chris: The reason for the National Shrine of St. Peregrine here at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica happened because the Servites moved the National Shrine from St. Dominic's Church when it closed to Assumption Church and then to Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica in 1993. It is a sanctuary for persons to come for healing Masses and to receive peace of mind, body, spirit and soul. We have over hundreds of persons come to visit us every year from other parts of our country and from other parts of the world. All are welcome to be blessed and to receive compassionate care through prayer with a Servite.
Gordon: You are pastor of one of the most beautiful churches in the United States It most be very costly to manage the upkeep of this magnificent church Could you comment on your “Donation-A-Month" to help with your maintenance costs?
Father Chris: Our "Donation-a-Month" club helps us to keep clean and in good order a real treasure of a Basilica Church within the Archdiocese of Chicago and for the Servites. All donations help this cause for a 110 year old church and the Parish is 141 years old. This year we are celebrating the Holy Year of Mercy with a Holy Door of Blessings and the 60th year of being named a Minor Basilica in 1956 by Pope Pius XII.
Gordon: Our Lady of Sorrows has been a leader in helping care for the poor - especially with your Saturday hot breakfast program. Could you give us a background of when and why this program started and how many people you serve at each breakfast?
Father Chris: Our Saturday Morning Hot Breakfast Program started 17 years ago to feed the homeless, poor and veterans with a hot meal early in the morning when people came out of their night shelters around Our Lady of Sorrows. For some this is the only hot food that they will get for the day. We serve from 188 to 250 people on a given Saturday morning at 7am. Many of our volunteers are parishioners and friends of OLS who come at 5am to start cooking the breakfast, serving at 7am and cleaning the Parish Hall at 8:30am. We always need donations as it takes $400 a Saturday to provide fresh food like grits, scrambled eggs, sausages, hash browns, toast, coffee and orange juice with fresh paper products. As one man said to me, "Fr. Chris I don't get sick on your food like I do at other food shelters."
Gordon: You have also been active in helping domestic violence victims. The Archdiocese of Chicago has an important domestic violence ministry. What, in your experience, have been some of the factors contributing to the increase in domestic violence?
Father Chris: Some of the factors contributing to the increase in domestic violence are the lack of jobs with people having too much time on their hands, the lack of anger management skills, the increase of alcoholism and drug abuse in families today, the lack of knowing how to treat one another with greater respect and kindness as Jesus once said, "love one another as I have loved you".
Gordon: Some of our readers may not be aware that one of the great films - The Untouchables - has a scene filmed in Our Lady of Sorrows. Could you explain which one?
Father Chris: The one scene of "The Untouchables" that is shot in our Basilica is the scene when Sean Connery is speaking to Kevin Costner on how to get Al Capone. They thought it would be safe to plot that planning in a Catholic Church and they used Our Lady of Sorrows.
Gordon: We conducted this interview a few days after the San Bernardino massacre. How have you addressed this issue with your parishioners?
Father Chris: To speak about the San Bernardino massacre is to once again speak about praying for Peace and Justice in the world everyday of our lives. We are on the side of Life and God of the living instead of the idea of vengeance, violence and anger. We follow Jesus Christ and his lead of forgiveness and reconciliation without weapons of war.
Thank you Gordon and all our readers. May you have a very Merry Christmas and come see us, here at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica at 3121 West Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL. 60612 Here is my Christmas Poem as my gift to all of you. God bless!
Gordon: Be sure to read Father Chris' book Jesus the Healer: St. Peregrine, OSM, the Helper.
Glory With Mercy
Why so far to travel immigrants’ path, How unsafe under barbwire, crossing current and toppling walls to crawl for freedom. We must beckon God to be near.
Glory with mercy get involved in each other’s lives. Be it terror or shootings, joys and sorrows…crucified and resurrected under the weight of injustice, misunderstandings, intolerance, acceptance, all are real, all life matters. We must beckon God to be near.
Surely it was the same for the Family on donkey kicking rough roads. Uncertain of future thoroughfares, walking to be counted, no easy inn, no refuge, only the heavens to be their roof. We must beckon God to be near.
Awake sleeper to the noise above, heavenly tidings taking time to rejoice for Christ is born in hearts so warm. God is near, God so near, to be recognized once again, just look inside, God is there.
C. L. Krymski, osm Christmas, 2015