CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s been a week of controversy for St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side, but on Sunday parishioners raised their voices in song and prayer under the watchful eye of their embattled pastor, Rev. Michael Pfleger.
As CBS 2’s Pamela Jones reports, it was a mixture of tears, applause and smiles in the sanctuary Sunday morning.
Most of the congregation probably had no idea Pfleger was watching from the back of the room.
Church members said it’s normal for him to at least say a few words on Youth Sunday, but this Sunday, to the public, he remained silent.
He appeared in a doorway during the service. Those who couldn’t see Father Pfleger said they could feel his presence in Sunday’s 10 a.m. service at St. Sabina.
And the youth who did catch a glimpse of him called his appearance an inspiration.
“I gave him a brief hug, I didn’t really get to talk to him,” Jonathan Travis, 17, said. “He’s a very strong person and I felt a sense of comfort, because if he’s alright, I know we’re going to be alright.”
Pfleger was suspended last week and chose not to speak or make a public appearance at the Youth Sunday service.
At times, you could see him praying. At other times, he was beaming with pride at the sight of all the young parishioners he’s guided, as they showcased their commitment to their faith and to their church.
“I couldn’t really judge where his mood was. I can tell he’s very mixed emotions,” youth minister Cinque Culler said.
Parish council chair Isadore Glover said Sunday was about celebrating the kids at St. Sabina.
“That’s what this is all about, developing the youth, and this is all a part of what Father Mike has been able to do here,” Glover said.
It’s work even those outside the parish respect.
Gwendolyn Meeks drafted an open letter to Cardinal Francis George, urging him to end Pfleger’s suspension.
“Even those who don’t go to church can see the good that Father Pfleger is doing in the community. He’s a standup guy,” she said.
Supporters marched in silence around St. Sabina after Sunday morning’s service. They called taking Pfleger away from the ministry unfair.
Earlier this year, Cardinal George asked Pfleger to consider taking over as president of nearby Leo High School after serving at St. Sabina for 30 years – far longer than the 12 years most priests typically serve at one parish.
After Pfleger said that he’d consider leaving the Catholic Church if he couldn’t stay at St. Sabina, the cardinal suspended Pfleger.
“The cardinal asked him to go to St. Leo. And he asked him to respond, which he did do in a letter to the cardinal,” Glover said. “And this whole suspension thing comes as a significant surprise to all of us here at the faith community.”
Members of the parish council said they still hope the cardinal will have a change of heart and they hope he and Pfleger will be able to sit down for a good talk when the cardinal returns from Rome, where he is attending the beatification of Pope John Paul II.