The identity of Little Village has undergone periods of subtle transformation, as the neighborhood has shifted from being defined by Irish, Eastern-European, Polish, to Mexican immigrants. The richness of the history is not obvious, as with each wave of immigrants the facade of the area has evolved to accommodate a new culture. It is for this reason that the European-style church on Central Avenue—a side street off of hectic 26th Street—is so magnificent and unexpected. With an ornate bell tower and luminous stained glass windows, the church evokes another era entirely. St. Agnes of Bohemia, now more commonly called Santa Inés de Bohemia, was built in 1904 by Czech immigrants. Lined with pews, the inside of the church is richly decorated with various statues and gold detailing. As Catholicism is such a vital part of Latin American culture, the church has become a center of the community, and its priests, com- munity leaders. The pastor of St. Inés de Bohemia is Father Don Nevins, an Irish American and Chicagoan with perfect Spanish. Sitting in a bare conference room with images of saints and other religious symbols hung neatly on the walls, Father Don Nevins tells me about his experiences as a priest and as a leader within the Little Village and Pilsen communities.
On the west side of 73rd and Stony Island, there is a plaza containing a chop suey joint, an H&R Block, a Subway, an insurance office, and a Harold’s Chicken Shack. On the east side, across the street, is Mosque Maryam, the largest mosque in Chicago and the national headquarters of the Nation of Islam, the syncretic African-American Muslim group led by Louis Farrakhan. The mosque is separated from the street by a wrought-iron fence and a wide parking lot. A star-and-crescent symbol stands on a pole atop its golden dome, overlooking the neighborhood. Continue reading
Reverend Dr. Marcenia Richards is the founder and executive director of Fierce Women of Faith, an interfaith initiative of women promoting peace throughout Chicago. Wrapped in their signature pink pashminas, members of FWF gather on Tuesday mornings for prayer vigils around the city and advocate for peace. Richards founded the coalition about a year ago, after serving as the director of Saint Sabina’s Peace Coalition Against Violence, where she found women had a limited presence in nonviolence organizing in Chicago. Richards says that about two-hundred Chicagoland women actively participate in FWF’s work. They categorize their work into five pillars: increasing public witness to prevent violence, training advocates for peace, pursuing legislation, driving the enforcement of nonviolence, and deepening partnerships with organizations engaged in this work. Dr. Marcenia Richards spoke with the Weekly on a recent Saturday morning shortly after her return from the World Alliance of Religions for Peace in Seoul, South Korea. Continue reading
Masjid Al Farooq, located in Calumet Heights at the intersection of 89th Street and Stony Island Avenue, considers itself one of the main Islamic centers on the South Side. The closest place of Islamic prayer that isn’t in a storefront or house is Masjid Al- Faatir, located about forty blocks away at 47th and Woodlawn. Continue reading