“Hear our prayers on the winds of your love.” As the wind whips and the sun shines, we struggle to keep the student-designed Healing Garden Banner taped to the fence. Anna strums along on her ukulele as the choir warms up their voices for the forthcoming rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The yellow school buses roar to a stop along Roosevelt Road, and the children begin to gather in the Healing Garden between Holy Family Church and our student parking lot at Saint Ignatius College Prep.
For each of the past five years in April, we have asked God to hear our petitions at the annual Healing Garden Prayer Service. Partnering with the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Healing Garden Committee, students from Saint Ignatius have planned and selected the music and prayer petitions for this unique prayer service. In a typical year, over 120 elementary school students from Catholic schools come to pray and learn about the Church’s renewed efforts to protect young people in our schools and parishes.
The service begins with a moving personal testimony from Mr. Mike Hoffman, a victim of clergy sexual abuse when he was a young boy. In an accessible and developmentally appropriate way Mike shares his difficult, yet courageous journey of healing and forgiveness with the gathered students. I am always moved by Mr. Hoffman’s profound witness of Christian courage and mercy.
The symbols of the prayer service—pinwheels planted in the garden—represents our deeply held belief that all children celebrate the joy, innocence and curiosity of childhood. As a lay minister who first received his call during the early 2000’s—a time when revelations of clerical sexual abuse in the United States Catholic Church emerged –I acknowledge the profound pain and suffering that many in our Church have experienced. As someone who grew up in the company of great priest and lay mentors, it pained me to read about the revelations of abuse by some in our Church. On one hand, as my vocation has developed, I am committed to sharing the experience of Church with which I grew up. On the other hand, I empathize with victims of abuse and realize that regaining broken trust is a complicated process.
After the visiting elementary students have left and all the cleanup is done, our group of high school students gathers for prayer and faith sharing about the day. Many reflect on the spiritual connection that they just experienced in the gathered community. Many are moved by the smiles, the playfulness, the wonder, and the curiosity that they saw in the elementary students: “And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Matthew, 18:5).
This is what it means to be Church: to remember, to gather in joy and sorrow, and to be active disciples committed to bringing new life from suffering and death. The Healing Garden Prayer service has empowered a new generation of Catholics to be engaged and purposeful in the care of young people. As a Church, we must continue to create safe spaces for young people to talk about difficult topics. This work must continue.
Peter Corrigan serves as the Director of Student Formation and Ministry at Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. He lives with his wife and two boys in Oak Park, IL.
Information about the 2018 event described in Mr. Corrigan’s article, above, may be found here, as the Pinwheels Prayer Service Flyer. This article first appeared in March 2018 as part of The Healing Voices Magazine third annual Special Edition on Child Abuse Prevention. The second Special Edition on Child Abuse Prevention is here. The first Special Edition on Child Abuse Prevention is here.