At the entrance to St. Sabina School, there is a poster that states: St. Sabina Academy- that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever-present teacher in its classes. He is the model for our faculty and the inspiration for our students. As one move toward the rectory, that same energy and love prevail. Father Pfleger is a man dedicated to the work of his people /parish. The love for God is evident in the interactions that take place in the rectory. He is a man ready and willing to assist his flock with whatever they need and challenges them to live the life that Pope Francis calls us to live: with compassion, love, mercy, and kindness.
Gordon: When were you appointed pastor of St. Sabina Parish and how many parishioners do you have?
Fr. Pfleger: Cardinal Cody appointed me to be the permanent administrator of the parish in 1981. He intended to move me to a pastor when things quieted down. Cardinal Bernadin appointed me to pastor. As far as the number of parishioners, I serve the entire community that needs me. I reach out to them and they reach out to me. The boundaries are defined somewhat by the 2000 people who are registered. In the year 2000, I had soldiers in the congregation to help with order and peace.
Dr. Knight: This is a time of hope in the Church with our spiritually compassionate Pope and other believers who understand his vision. How do you think he has inspired the people?
Fr. Pfleger: Our loving Pope Francis has inspired the world! His gift is the mission of the world as focusing on the needs of the economically poor; this is part of the DNA of our Church. The right-wing conservatives seem to be without hope and a focus on what is destructive. In a world that is morally depraved, our Pope is developing a conscience for all. He promotes directives that challenge us to live the faith in ordinary circumstances, in our everyday lives, to love and honour the economically poor in union with the Church.
Gordon: At a recent meeting a priest mentioned that parishes should address racism from the pulpit. If you agree, what are some of the issues that they should address? (This took place at a Theology on Tap program)
Fr. Pfleger: The biggest failure of our Archdiocese (and others) has been the lack of challenge from the pulpit. What is said from the pulpit concerns issues that make us comfortable in our faith. Preaching should be a time of challenge. Our Church is the moral compass for society. People who are racist, sexist, ageist, who frequent Church often don’t realize that the Church is the vessel for the Gospel Stories that are not easy to live. Our world should be transformed after we go to Church, that hasn’t happened. To use a football analogy we seem to stay in the huddle way too long instead of transformative touchdowns!
Dr. Knight: How did you receive your call to serve in this ministry? How has this service changed over time?
Fr. Pfleger: When I was in grade school I knew I wanted to be a priest. I went to Catholic grade school and then on to Quigley South which was right near my house. (One felt that Father Pfleger was an early discerner and his path was manifest to him by the Lord frequently). My call became stronger as I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King. I learned from Dr. King that racism is illegal and that only your faith community can change your heart. I went to Mundelein and began my active ministry.
Dr. Knight: The sexual abuse has caused much pain to the believers, what effect/affect has this had on your parish?
Fr. Pfleger The sexual abuse had people question the integrity of the Catholic Church. The parishioners will not make any donations to the Catholic Church but will support their own St. Sabina. The black Catholics are challenged by others in regard to the financial and moral effect on our society. The black Catholics have a great deal of pride in the Catholic Church and are hurt deeply by this scandal. The parishioners have great pride in St. Sabina community
Dr. Knight: Can you explain to the reader the scope of your work in being a shepherd?
Fr. Pfleger I have a huge social outreach: we have a social service center, Samaritan apartment building, school, elders apartment building (18 units) 2 (2 flat buildings for low-income housing, raise friends spiritual shepherd voice of justice. I’ve had 4 meetings in the last 4 days for the Church and its community! We include everyone in our ministry programs and try to provide for all.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that the use of social media in our parishes can assist young people to think about knowing/loving/serving God through their ‘cyber-neighbor’?
Fr. Pfleger Social media is such a powerful tool that all can use to communicate better! It is convenient and effective in getting messages out to many people. It cannot replace the importance of face to face conversation and physical friendship. We need to establish a balance of both social media and physical/psychological/social conversation.
Dr. Knight: As a Pastor, you are able to educate and spiritually form men and women in society through your work. What issues are predominantly on your mind and heart?
Fr. Pfleger: Violence comes from economic poverty. So, in reality, we have a tale of two cites: one of plenty and one of abject poverty. We need to think/act/understand the words of Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich to love our neighbour as ourselves. Basically, we want to keep economically poor people out of sight.
Gordon: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he will not be seeking a new term. What recommendations would you make to mayoral candidates to reduce racism and gun violence in Chicago?
Fr. Pfleger To new mayoral candidates, I would say we need more women, gay, straight, and all marginalized to create policies that will serve all. We need to hear the voices of all before we make binding policies.
Dr. Knight: What issues do you have as a priority for our work as a society in regard to concerns that affect/effect all?
Fr. Pfleger In my area there is 2 digit unemployment. I am working with 12 men who have college degrees and no job. Incarceration is no help to anyone, there are no ways to remedy the situation. Throughout the country, there is a lack of access to mental health assistance. We all know this but tend to change only those issues that affect/effect us personally. We need to get the Church out of governing itself. We need to get the Church out of being horrible to women. We need to respect the life that takes place in poverty and respect for life outside of the womb; all the children and their parents who are walking around abortions.
Gordon: What impact has President Trump has had on gun violence?
Trump has decayed the moral fiber of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. Trump has set up America as ‘Lying is the new norm’. He has given added depth to racism and sexism. He purports that he’s got your back (if it supports evil)!
Dr. Knight: What kinds of things have you been doing at the parish to help the people in the area?
Father Pfleger: We have 70 children a day at our youth center and over 800 per week being fed through our Social Service Office. We have also done mask giveaways
Dr. Knight: What food provisions have you been giving out?
Father Pfleger: We feed people in the community, We have 5 senior buildings, police, and fire stations that all need to be fed.
Dr. Knight: Do you have enough masks for your parish as we will be using them for quite some time?
Father Pfleger: No, no matter how many we get we run out.
Dr. Knight: What about gun violence would you like to make sure that people know?
Father Pfleger: Gun violence in Chicago is up and no one is talking about it. This is a virus we had before and still have, and America has ignored it because of the power of the NRA
Dr. Knight: What are some of the factors that contribute to systemic racism in the United States?
Father Pfleger: We are a country who has racism in her very DNA and has built a system that has as its intention to keep some from having their rightful rights and privileges with the belief that the only way you can feel good about yourself is if there is someone beneath you.
Dr. Knight: What recommendations would you make to all faiths to more effectively combat racism?
Father Pfleger: The faith community must see racism as its original sin. If God is love then the failure to love must be the greatest of sins. The faith community must see as its responsibility to dismantle racism wherever it raises its head and be unashamed about being the lobby and spokesperson who confronts racism and racist systems.
Luke 4:18 Pursuit of Justice...
Dr. Knight: Thank you very much for providing this interview for the many people all over the world in regard to learning about your work and how it has assisted the Church in bringing the knowledge and love for the economically poor to all. We will remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. ... “. Thank you so much!
Dr. Knight is the assistant editor; Gordon Nary is the editor of Catholic profiles.