“When did it become radical to believe everybody has a right to eat?” – Fr. Pfleger
December 5, 2011
Lisle, Illinois ~ Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church on the south side of Chicago, has been characterized by many of his critics as a troublemaker, a rebel and a radical.
Wednesday, November 30, at Benedictine University, he challenged some of his critics.
"When did it become radical in America to believe that everybody has a right to eat everyday, three meals?" Pfleger told a crowd of about 350 people Wednesday at Benedictine University's Krasa Student Center. "When did it become radical to believe that everybody has a right to sleep in a bed at night, and have a place to call home?
"When did it become radical to believe that everybody ought to have a job that they can go to? And yes, I heard Herman McCain. I heard what he said, 'Anybody that wants a job can get a job.' Well Herman, come down to 79th Street so I can show you that every time we have a job, 300, 400, 500 people show up for one job. Because they're people who want to work, but can get no job to go to.
"When did it become radical to think that everybody ought to have a house to stay in, food to eat, a job to go to, and a bed to sleep in?" he said.
A celebrated civil rights activist who was invited to speak at the funeral service for Coretta Scott King, Fr. Pfleger talked about poverty, the absence of jobs and the lack of quality education during a program titled "Combating Poverty: A Moral and Civic Imperative" sponsored by the Center for Civic Leadership at Benedictine University.
Fr. Pfleger, who learned that his adopted son could not read as a sophomore in high school at the age of 15, said the education system in America has failed poor people under both political parties.
"I was involved in the Civil Rights movement, and you know, we made a big mistake in the Civil Right movement," he said. "We bussed children into schools. And it wasn't until years later, and I said to Mrs. King, I said, 'Mrs. King, we made a big mistake in the Civil Rights movement. We bussed kids. We shouldn't have bussed kids, we should have bussed resources.'
"We should have bussed money, we should have bussed teachers, we should have bussed resources, we should have bussed what we needed to make schools good, because we didn't in the end," he added. "We bussed kids up, but we kept the same kind of school system. And it is still the same school system today."
Fr. Pfleger has lived and worked in the African-American community on both the west and south sides of Chicago since 1968. He has been recognized in People, Time, Ebony, Newsweek and Jet magazines and countless newspapers and television networks for his fight against alcohol and tobacco billboards, drugs and racism.
"I always get in trouble with the archdiocese, as you probably know," Fr. Pfleger said. "But I wrote a letter a few weeks ago. I said, 'Catholic Charities closed four of their seven food pantries in the last few months. How do you close food pantries in a time where people are most hurting and most desperate for food than I have ever seen it in my life?'"
Fr. Pfleger said that many poor people panhandle all day to purchase lottery tickets because they see "luck" as their only ticket out of their station.
"If you ask poor people why they buy lottery tickets, they will tell you. 'Because nobody cares about us…the government doesn't care, the churches don't care, humanity doesn't care,'" Fr. Pfleger said. "What has happened to a society where people feel the only way they can rise out of their condition is if some luck/chance lottery will pull them out because society no longer cares about them?"
Established in 2005 under the direction of former Illinois Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan, CCL seeks to shape a new generation of public leaders and responsible citizens. Each year, the Center invites prominent public figures to speak about the importance of active citizenship and public service.
Fr. Pfleger joined a list of speakers that includes President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, Washington Post columnists Bob Woodward and David Broder, CNN's Peter Bergen, Children's Defense Fund Director Marian Wright Edelman, University of Chicago legal scholar Cass Sustein, human rights advocate Paul Rusesabagina and former Illinois Governor James Edgar.
Fr. Pfleger closed his address by paraphrasing South African author Alan Paton, whose book "Cry, the Beloved Country," condemned apartheid.
"I believe that when we come to meet God, God is going to say, 'Where are your wounds? Where are your wounds?'" Fr. Pfleger said. "And we'll say, 'Well, I have no wounds.' And God will look back at us and say, 'Was there nothing worth struggling for? Was there nothing worth suffering for? Was there nothing worth dying for?
"I pray that when we meet God, we that call ourselves people of faith won't be known for our denomination, or for our church buildings, or for our choirs, or for our preaching, or for our church ministry," he added. "I pray that when we meet God, we will be known for our wounds."