‘The message of Easter is life and love wins’: Clergy urge flocks to find solace in family, community and faith

Rector Esequiel Sanchez, right, carries a cross during the Good Friday Stations of the Cross procession at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Des Plaines. Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald
  Thousands follow the St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Church’s annual Good Friday Living Stations of the Cross on Anderson Drive in Palatine. At right, Jesus kneels as he carries his cross. John Starks/
Thousands walk and pray as Jesus carries his cross during the St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Church’s annual Good Friday Living Stations of the Cross on Anderson Drive in Palatine. John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.

Ushering in the holiest days on the Christian calendar, suburban clergy are urging their flocks to find solace and hope in family, community and faith this Easter amid rising turmoil in the world around them.

“The message of Easter is life and love wins,” said the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines.

With a year already marked by escalating conflict in parts of the world, political divisiveness at home, and people struggling with their own powerlessness in the face of tragedy, fear is paramount on people’s minds, Sanchez said.

“There’s a lot of pain for a lot of reasons,” Sanchez said. “Sadly, it’s not a year that seems to be uniting people.”

Fighting fear with faith is the way through, he added.

An estimated 50,000 people typically make a pilgrimage to the shrine over Easter weekend. The Good Friday celebration of the Passion of the Lord is a big part of the attraction.

The tradition of Via Crucis — or Way of the Cross — is observed with a public procession. It is a re-enactment of Jesus Christ’s final hours, from his trial to his crucifixion and death. Holy Week culminates on Easter Sunday, marking the Resurrection of Christ.

“Jesus is the ultimate expression … of sacrificial love,” Sanchez said. “It begins with you. You can’t have a good country if you don’t have good families. You can't have a community that’s safe if families are taught not to care about (others).”

Sanchez said the role of churches is to provide support and connection.

“Our particular fear is when people don’t feel that they have any resources anywhere … it’s a recipe for disaster,” he said. “The way we respond to this is, don't isolate, find a faith, find a community, be part of something.”

Faith over fear

Conitras M. Houston Dickens Courtesy of Conitras M. Houston Dickens

Fear of the unknown, whether it’s war, climate change or the day-to-day challenges of life, can be incapacitating, said Conitras M. Houston Dickens, senior pastor at DuPage AME Church in Lisle.

“Those things sometimes discourage you from living your best life,” Dickens said. “We believe that Jesus came and died and rose again so that we would not only have life, but the Scripture says that we will have it to its full, abundantly. It is our responsibility as spiritual leaders to remind people to put their faith over those fears that could easily overcome us.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement served as recent reminders about the importance of community, Dickens said.

“Jesus told the disciples the new commandment is to love,” she said. “If we place love before hate it will bring us to a lot of resolutions in this world (to problems) that we are facing.”

Focusing on discipleship

The Rev. Rothea (Thea) Kornelius Courtesy of Rothea (Thea) Kornelius

What does discipleship — following Jesus — really look like?

That’s what the Rev. Rothea (Thea) Kornelius, head pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Elgin, has been emphasizing throughout Lent.

The gospel of Mark, which her congregation has been reflecting on, ends with Jesus rising from the grave.

“The world is so going to pot that it feels like the grave might be empty, where the heck is Jesus?” Kornelius said. “That might fill us with fear, but that should also make us hopeful … Our job is to do the best we can … to emulate what we have been taught.”

Moved by the plight of immigrants arriving from the southern border to Chicago and the suburbs, the church has been working closely with Centro de Información in Elgin.

“That is a big part of where we find ourselves in living that Easter message,” Kornelius said. “Hope is hard these days … which means we’ve got to go and do so we can bring Jesus into this world.”

Calling to transformation

The Rev. Dan Folwaczny Courtesy of Dan Folwaczny

At Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Elk Grove Village, the focus this year has been on transformation on the personal level, within families and communities.

“It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the world … it can make us feel very small,” said the Rev. Dan Folwaczny, church pastor. “(God) calls us to serve differently, whatever that may look like in our own lives. (At Easter) we have this hope that … he can bring me out of my own bondage, out of what my own place of darkness is. When we are able to experience that kind of power of that resurrection in our own lives, that’s the way we make a difference in the communities around us.”

Whether through more active service, supporting others in need or helping raise one another in times of difficulty, the church offers different ways for that transformation to happen, Folwaczny said.

“To me, the fundamental thing about Easter is God has not forgotten us and that God does not leave us behind,” Folwaczny said. “He invites me to be a part of that same work for others who are in need.”

The parish community also stepped up to do what it could to address the migrant crisis by sponsoring an immigrant family through their journey, Folwaczny said.

“Can I solve the whole of the problem? Not all at once,” Folwaczny said. “If there is one step that I am called to take, then I can be a part of making that change.”

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