CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago's continuing problems with gun violence have caught the attention of Pope Francis, who has told Cardinal Blase Cupich he is praying for "healing and reconciliation."
"Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers. I know that many families have lost loved ones to violence. I am close to them, I share in their grief, and pray that they may experience healing and reconciliation through God's grace," the pope wrote in a letter to the cardinal on Tuesday.
Cupich said he met with the pope in Rome last week, and told the pontiff about the Chicago archdiocese's plans to be more actively involved in promoting peace efforts. Pope Francis later sent a letter to the cardinal and the people of Chicago offering his support of the church's anti-violence efforts here.
"I pray that the people of your beautiful city never lose hope, that they work together to become builders of peace, showing future generations the true power of love," the pope wrote.
Cupich chose the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to announce the church's new anti-violence efforts, which include using $250,000 in discretionary funds as seed money to start an "Instruments Of Peace" fund to expand existing anti-violence programs that have been working.
"Just because we can't do everything, doesn't mean we shouldn't do something," to make Chicago a more peaceful place, Cupich said. "When we hear, for instance, people with hopelessness in their voices, it's time for us to stand up and say, 'Now, wait a minute, a lot of good things are happening already.' Let's look for ways we can build on that."
Shootings and homicides in Chicago skyrocketed in 2016, with more than 760 murders, the highest number in 19 years. There were more than 4,300 people shot last year in Chicago, an increase of about 1,300 over 2015.
While Chicago Police have said shootings are down about 15 percent this year compared to the first three months of 2016, and homicides are down about 4 percent, there still have been more than 750 shooting victims and nearly 150 homicides.
Pope Francis said he supports the commitment Cupich and other local leaders have made to promoting nonviolence, and said he'll be praying for the victims of violence in Chicago when Cupich leads an anti-violence march next week.
"On Good Friday, I will lead a walk for peace in Englewood, praying the Stations of the Cross, and pausing to remember those who have lost their lives to violence this year," Cupich said.
The pope also lamented the "discrimination, indifference, injustice, and violence" suffered by minorities and the poor, saying they should be treated as brothers and sisters.
"A culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results. The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations – and it can heal Chicago," he wrote.
Rev. Michael Pfleger, a renowned activist priest, said he's extremely encouraged by the cardinal's initiative.
"We've got to have skin in the game, and the church has a platform, and we've got to use it," he said. "I'm glad to have lived long enough to see a pope and a Cardinal who are really speaking about people's needs, and people's hurts and pains."
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