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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

5 Protesters Arrested Outside Pilsen Church As Workers Remove Beloved Statue After Monthslong Standoff

People have camped outside the closed St. Adalbert's for weeks, hoping to prevent workers from moving the La Pietà statue to St. Paul's Catholic Church.

Former parishioners are taken into police custody after blocking the truck carrying the La Pietà statue, which was removed from St. Adalbert’s and moved to St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pilsen on Nov. 29, 2022, after months of activism to keep the statue in its original home.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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PILSEN — The battle over a beloved statue inside a shuttered Pilsen church came to a crescendo Wednesday as work crews removed the Michelangelo replica and police arrested five people protesting the project.

The Archdiocese of Chicago and the St. Paul parish has wanted to remove the La Pietà statue from St. Adalbert’s Church, 1650 W. 17th St., for months, but protesters blocked the removal on multiple occasions. The church closed in 2019 as part of a consolidation but longtime parishioners have focused on preserving the statue amid their battle with the archdiocese, which wants to sell the land.

On Tuesday morning, crews successfully removed the statue, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, through a hole in one of the closed church’s walls that was created for the removal. It was loaded onto a flatbed and brought to its new home at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 2127 W. 22nd Place.

A small group of protesters were arrested Tuesday after trying to block the truck carrying the statue outside St. Adalbert’s, a police spokesperson said. Charges were pending.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Former parishioners block the truck carrying the La Pietà statue, which was removed from St. Adalbert’s and moved to St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pilsen on Nov. 29, 2022, after months of activism to keep the statue in its original home.

Beginning in September, residents rotated shifts to watch over the statue, camping outside to block it from being removed. The transfer of the statue raised concerns among parishioners about whether the archdiocese will properly seal the hole once the statue is removed and if it will accelerate the demolition of the parish. 

Workers previously tried to move the statue in October, but were again thwarted by protesters.

Anina Jakubowski, a former St. Adalbert’s parishioner and student, said she got a text from friends early Tuesday letting her know workers were finally taking the statue. She raced to Pilsen from her home in Downers Grove to be there as the statue was removed, she said.

“‘Oh no, the thing that we dreaded — it’s happening,'” Jakubowski said raced through her mind.

Javier Yañez, a former choir boy at St. Adalbert’s, said he worries about the possibility of the church turning into a luxury development.

“We can change potentially change the fabric of this community, from one day to the other if we don’t do the right thing here,” said Yañez, who has a history of local politics in the ward.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Judy Vasquez looks on as La Pietà statue, which was removed from St. Adalbert’s Church after months of activism to keep the statue in its original home, is moved to St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pilsen on Nov. 29, 2022.

St. Adalbert’s future

In the last four years, the archdiocese has twice gone under contract to sell the property — once to a music school and another time to a residential developer — but both deals have fallen through. 

The property — consisting of the sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and a parking lot — spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the changing neighborhood.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) has worked to downzone the church site for years in an effort to force any developer to engage with Pilsen neighbors and St. Adalbert’s former parishioners.

Sigcho-Lopez’s ordinance passed the zoning committee in May, despite a representative from the archdiocese at the time saying it would likely sue the city if it passed. It was set to go before the next City Council meeting, but allies of the mayor blocked the vote.

Sigcho-Lopez subsequently filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s office against Mayor Lori Lightfoot, accusing the mayor of interfering in the rezoning to help the archdiocese.

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