WEST RIDGE — Far North Side neighbors on Wednesday united in silent prayer as they walked along the path police believe Evanston teen Antonio Johnson last took before he was shot and killed two weeks ago.
Under shrouded skies on a damp evening, Sister Benita Coffey, social justice promoter for the St. Benedictine Sisters, led dozens of residents from Birchwood and Seeley Avenues on a route that took them back to a spot near their monastery on Ridge Boulevard, where Johnson was murdered.
Coffey said she and other sisters were to "ask eternal rest for Anthony, who died so violently."
Despite the somber march, Coffey said she wanted residents to "stop being fearful" and to begin healing as a cohesive community.
Through the grief can be hope, she said.
"What we need to do is stop being a fearful people — to heal one another, to support one another, and to remember that we all need to be standing with our right to be peaceful people in this neighborhood," Coffey said.
"We need, as a neighborhood, to claim our right to be people of peace and solidarity with one another, and supportive of another, and that's what it's all about."
Sister Benita Coffey, in blue, leads dozens of residents on a silent prayer walk down Birchwood Avenue Wednesday evening. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Coffey said after the March 23 shooting, she began putting up fliers for the walk around the neighborhood.
Having come to St. Scholastica in 1949, Coffey said though she's lived and taught in other places over the years, she's called the monastery at 7430 N. Ridge Blvd. home since 1995.
Coffey said the St. Benedictine sisters are deeply embedded in the neighborhood, and have tried to establish their property as "an oasis of peace."
The Tuesday night before the gathering, a 23-year-old man was shot just blocks away.
At the end of Wednesday's peace walk, Coffee and other sisters led the group in prayer, while calling for community members to be empowered to make positive change and to practice kindness.
"We are the light of the world, may our light shine before all. That they may see the good that we do and give glory to God," the group sang.
Gathering at the spot where Johnson was shot, sisters cast holy water on the sidewalk and street before the vigil ended by singing, "This Little Light of Mine."
Coffey said ultimately what she wants is for neighbors to feel like they can live freely and safely, but she also wants people to remember "everybody is a human being," and to keep conversations around violence humane.
"The important thing is everybody is a human being, and regardless of your lifestyle or affiliations or whatever, we are all under one creator and we're one human race — we really should be about taking care of ... one another," Coffey said.
She said she wasn't dwelling on the circumstances of the shooting.
"Somebody asked me if this young man was involved in a gang and I said, 'I don't care whether he did or didn't, I'm not doing it because he was a bad boy or a good boy, I'm doing it because a life was lost and it's senseless.' It's a life lost, and that's a sadness for all of us."
A sister from St. Scholastica cast holy water at the site on Ridge Boulevard where Antonio Johnson was shot and killed. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Many families were present at Wednesday's vigil, including young children who were comforted by their parents. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
On Ridge Boulevard, Coffey leads the community in prayer and song. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
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