Spiritual Chicago

From the March 24, 1926, Issue

We have a murder in Chicago almost every morning before breakfast. Try as we do, there is no escaping it. Our newspapers appear to have a sort of standing head to screech forth the very latest fracas wherein somebody shoots somebody else and gets away with it.

It would appear from recent testimony that our brethren of the olive skin and the furtive eye, whose ancestors held their abode along the shores of the glorious Mediterranean, have come to the fore in this business of shoot, hit, and run. We have names like Spingola, Anselmi, and Scalise looming very large and threatening upon the front page of our favorite newspaper.

The practice seems to be to invite the lady or gentleman to be executed to "take a ride" in one's six-thousand-dollar automobile. The invitation accepted, one makes tracks for a distant and less frequented part of the city whereat the guest is dragged from the interior of the limousine and shot—not once, but ten or twelve or fifteen times, through head, back, heart, and lungs. It has been observed more than once that our present-day type of murderer in Chicago is a very thorough-going person with an aptitude for sharp attention to details.

It must not be inferred from this, however, that all the murders committed in Chicago are done by the compatriots of M. Mussolini. Frequently, others, who boast not so glorious an ancestry, indulge themselves to the extent of shooting a brother Pole or a sister Czech, to the tune of thousand-dollar fees gathered in by way of "profits" on the sale of poisonous "hooch" put out under a Peter Dawson label. Then, too, there was a gentleman who was a shoemaker by trade and a most lovable fellow who "went for a ride" and never came back. Quite recently, the spotlight of our morbid curiosity was focused upon a dandy who is classified as a "hundred-percenter—a native-born of pure New England ancestry," who appears to have married three young ladies, stolen fifty automobiles and twenty valuable fur coats, and to have been responsible for the killing of half-a-dozen policemen.

From all of which it will be seen readily that Chicago is a city of many parts. The fact is, however, that when judged by many standards which prevail in such matters, Chicago is a really great city. They do some things out here occasionally which are truly marvelous. And when you get to know something of its brief and stirring history, which is a glorious record of rapid advancement and tremendous growth, you begin to understand why it has been put forth as the "Wonder City of the World." Less than a hundred years ago, this second largest city of the nation was little  more than  a chance meeting place set down in a vast wilderness. Upon its incorporation in 1837, the population figures were fixed at 4,000. Today, upwards of three millions reside within her municipal limits, with another million close at hand and dependent upon her bounty.

From a mere trading-post on a well-watered prairie, in less than a century the city has become one of the outstanding banking and commercial centers of the earth, second only to New York in the value of its mercantile resources. It is the world's largest railroad center and has taken its place among the world's greatest cities along with London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna.
Now, in the face of all this, it may not be amiss to suggest that it is a mistake to imply that Chicago is little more than a nest-hole of murderers and a lair for sharp-witted gentlemen with a weakness for appropriating unto themselves other fellows' wives, lives, and goods. True it is that a like impression is certain to prevail where one's knowledge of the city is gathered from its newspapers. But there are in Chicago mil­ lions of plain folk, much like the common run of plain folk elsewhere, concerning whom you rarely read any­ thing whatever in the columns of the newspapers. It is these who go to make the city what it really is, and not the gentry of the disinherited and the unhappy. There are more homes to the square mile in Chicago than in any city of the world; there is at least as much down­ right solidarity, sincerity of purpose, and appreciation of the finer things of love and life. And, when you come to reckon upon the things that are worthwhile, Chicago must be accorded her place. For sheer achievement in that very nebulous thing called civilization, and in literature, art and religion, she is, unquestionably, the miracle city of her age.

Witness, if you please, the plans which Chicago has in hand for the twenty-eighth International Eucharistic Congress which is to be held this year in that city from June 20 to June 24. Herein you may glean something of that fine quality of fiber and substance, rarely mentioned in the newspapers, and the deep religious spirit of her people which, likewise, attracts no attention in the daily press. These qualities which are a live, vital, enervating part of her community life, are rarely mentioned and never stressed. If present indications count for anything, it is more than likely that Chicago, next June, will stage the most outstanding religious demonstration of a century.

The Catholic group in Chicago, which numbers slightly less than one and one-half millions, is to play host to the Catholics of all the world in a demonstration of faith which bids fair to eclipse anything of its kind ever held on this continent. If only to demonstrate this better side of Chicago, a word or two about this congress may serve a worth-while purpose. To write down a great people in terms of murder, rape, prostitution, and debauchery is the foulest kind of injustice and libel.

Now, in order to understand just what it is that Chicago is about with this Eucharistic Congress, it may be well to suggest here that, with Catholics and those others who hold obedience with Rome, the Blessed Eucharist, or the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is the "central fact of Catholic worship and belief." According to this Catholic doctrine, during the Mass, which is defined as the "unbloody sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ," that which was, and to all appearances is, but bread and wine, becomes with the words of consecration of the celebrant priest, "the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ." Christ is actually present upon the altar, in entirety, in either species. The consecrated Host, or small white wafer, is reserved in the tabernacle of the altar in all Catholic churches and, with certain others whose tenets subscribe to the doctrine of the Eucharist, is adored as the Living Presence of Jesus Christ. In other words, Catholic belief has it that Christ Himself is actually living and present in the Blessed Eucharist, just as He was actually living and present at Bethlehem or Calvary.

The purpose of the Eucharistic Congress is to manifest publicly Catholic love, fealty, and devotion to Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist; to promote and inspire among men greater love and a more widespread devotion to the Eucharist and to endeavor to make reparation for the outrages which have been committed against this living Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar. Thus will it be noted that, with Catholics, a Eucharistic Congress is an event of greatest importance. It is a public demonstration of faith in the (to Catholics) most sublime mystery of Christian life.

The movement which has its expression in these congresses is less than half a century under way. But its advancement in popularity and effectiveness has been almost miraculous. It owes its inception to a woman—one Marie Martha Tamisier, a French lady who persuaded Monsignor de Segur, the "blind bishop of Lille," to assemble the first congress in 188I. The idea caught on immediately, and soon other distinguished ecclesiastics lent their support to its cause so that, within a few years, the influence of the movement spread to all parts of the world. Rome, Vienna, Paris, Brussels, London, and Amsterdam are but a few of the larger cities which have played the host to a Eucharistic Congress, each with increasing numbers in attendance and in effectiveness. In 1910, the congress was assembled at Montreal, Canada, for the first of such congresses in the new world. And now the congress comes to Chicago. For the first time in its history, the Catholics of the United States, represented by the Catholics of Chicago, will entertain the "congressists"—as those who participate in the ceremonies and deliberations are called.

At Montreal, fifteen years ago, something like 750,000 persons were in attendance upon the congress sessions. At Chicago, it is estimated that near to a million will attend. Sufficient information is at hand to indicate that almost every people in the world will be represented by a group of both priests and laity. More than twenty cardinals have signified their intention to participate in the deliberations, along with forty or more archbishops, and about 260 bishops. No figures are available as to the number of priests and religious who will journey to the city for this gathering, but an estimate ventured by one in authority puts it down as 8,000.

Now, on her part, Chicago for more than a year has been working away quietly with a view to seeing to it that her congress be well worthy of the Church in the United States. Twenty-five committees of both clergy and laity have been assembled to carry out the enormous details of the plans. These appear to have anticipated every possible contingency. There are committees on health, safety, and sanitation—on housing and food, transportation and program, finance and history, processions and pageants-and a dozen others. There is a group preparing to direct the religious ceremonies, and the public meetings at which discussions on various aspects of the Blessed Eucharist will be held.

It is known that these discussions will bring to Chicago the foremost scholars and scribes of the world. Outstanding men of letters, orators of note, dogmatic interpreters, and preachers of renown will participate—either in the discussions or the ceremonies. A papal legate, the personal representative of Pius XI, will preside, and distinguished ecclesiastics will rub shoulders with the poor and the lowly, the halt, the maimed, and the blind. In all that has to do with the congress at Chicago it is emphasized that the undertaking is purely and solely a spiritual one, and that the call to come has gone forth to all the Christian world, in the spirit of Christ, which admits of no distinction of class or caste.

This, then, is the task to which Chicago has set herself. It is the purpose to manifest to a watching world that abiding faith in Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist which is the very be-all and end-all of Catholic devotion and belief. And, though little has been suggested in the official dispatches which might substantiate the thought, it is not without reason to hope that the assembly at Chicago next June will leave after it a profound impression, the like of which we stand sorely in need of. There are 60,000,000 people in this expansive land of ours who admit of no religious affiliation of any kind. May it not be that this Eucharistic Congress, because it is a demonstration of religious faith that is definite, concrete, and tangible, may touch the hearts of those others, enlighten their minds and strengthen their wills-all to the end that the reign of Christ may prevail everywhere?

Of course, you won't read much about all this in the daily newspapers. But when you know something about newspapers you get to understand. Because, after all, you know, there are still the Gennas, the Durkins, and the "bootleg war" to be "played up" to satisfy the lust for more and still more of that morbidity which, though it may demoralize the youth of today, is "sure-fire stuff" in building up circulation.

[For more from our 1920s archive, click here]

Joseph I. Breen is the director of the Bureau of Information and Publicity of the International Eucharistic Congress.

Please email comments to [email protected]rg and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads