Last night I attended the second of five Urban Dolorosa memorial events to honor Chicago children killed by violence. Urban Dolorosa—“suffering city”—is a movement among Chicago faith communities to raise awareness about the 277 Chicago children and youth who have died since September 2008, to grieve their loss, and to inspire the city to do something about it. It was a powerful event that left me raw, determined to find ways to contribute to the redemption of our sorrowing city.

I can barely imagine what it must be like to lose a child. The evening began with a poem written by a grieving father, which immediately caused me to wonder how I would respond to the death of my own nearly three-year-old son. It’s not a place I can stay for very long. My heart breaks for parents who must bury children killed by senseless acts of violence.

There was a spoken word performance toward the beginning that mentioned the media blackout when it comes to coverage of “black and brown” children killed by violence in our city. It’s true. I’ve noticed that every day over the past week there has been a story in the paper about a suburban girl who was killed in a home burglary gone wrong. I grieve this girl’s loss too, but the absence of similar coverage for the 277 names I heard last night is telling. Where is the public outrage at these acts of urban violence? Where are the calls for justice?

It took over sixteen minutes to read the names of those 277 children, eleven of whom have been killed during the past two months of this new school year. Collectively, over the course of five memorial services, these children will be remembered by name for an hour and twenty minutes. This is a beginning, but we must do more.

For some time now, God has been calling my attention to the suffering children of our city. While the youth I work with have genuine needs that I feel called to serve, I believe I am also called to serve the children and youth of Chicago that don’t have the same opportunities to succeed, or even survive. Even more, I believe that I am somehow called to mobilize the youth of privilege I work with to reach out to their peers across the various walls that divide us.

Urban Dolorosa is a powerful start. What’s next?

Check out a report about Urban Dolorosa, with video, from the Chicago Tribune, and find a way to attend one of the three remaining performances.


John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

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  1. Hi John. We’re on the same page. I’m a yoga teacher/former counselor, recently moved to Chicago and trying to find a space for THIS. for what you’re talking about. here’s a link to a general outline: . You can learn more of the me of me at my blog, (don’t worry, it’s writings on recovery, not smut). Can we maybe meet for coffee?

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