Despite theological and cultural differences, there is more that unites the faith communities of Milwaukee than divides them.

That’s the message Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and leaders from four other faith traditions shared Wednesday, Feb. 12, at Northwestern Mutual’s downtown location as part of the Milwaukee 2020 CommUNITY Growth Summit. The panel was called “Keeping the Faith: Bridging Religious Divides to Build Stronger Communities.”

The series of keynote speeches and panel discussions featured Milwaukee-based initiatives that stimulate broader discussions with local and national policy makers. The event held Feb. 11 and 12 was the second of three summits the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee is holding in the lead-up to the 2020 Democratic National Convention in July in Milwaukee.

The discussion of how the various faith communities have and can come together was spawned when Archbishop Listecki was asked about his hopes.

“My hopes are founded in my belief in the commandment Jesus gives us to Love One Another,” he said. “I believe we’re charged with moving the needle, with taking the challenges we have at this time, by taking the resources, by bringing them together and by moving them forward. Why am I confident in that? Because I look at the past and I see how individuals of faith in the various traditions have done that, have come together and have moved the needle so that we’re a better community today than we were 50 years ago or 100 years ago.”

Miryam Rosenzweig of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation discussed the rise in anti-Semitism and how the faith community reached out after the murders at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October of 2018.

“When something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us because the people who are committing the hate crimes are just looking for targets and they’re mimicking each other, and when we protect each other, we strengthen all of us,” Rosenzweig said. “When we celebrate our values and the amazing work each of our communities is doing, that’s the hope for the future and that’s going to build a stronger Milwaukee and a stronger community for all of us.”

Pardeep Kaleka of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee was the moderator of the discussion and talked about his experience after a hate incident in our own backyard — the Sikh Temple shooting in August 2012.

“The choice that people made was (as) they were getting out of their own churches, their own synagogues, and they could have just gone home and said , ‘This isn’t my community’s issue. I can just go home and just go on with my Sunday,’” Kaleka said. “The choice that faith communities made that day was to gather together and to stand strong and stand against hate. That isn’t just reactionary love. That is pre-emptive love.”

Lutheran Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA, said, “If we are not about the business of loving our neighbors, we are lost.”

Archbishop Listecki said dialogue is the key to forging and maintaining the bonds between various faith groups.

“When we talk about attacking someone, we usually attack the stranger because we can put all sorts of prejudices on our view,” Listecki said. “We can’t attack a friend. With a friend, you talk. With a friend, you go forward.”

Archbishop Listecki said faith communities in Milwaukee and the state have been establishing the backbone institutions of the community — schools, hospitals, charities — before the city and state existed, because those governmental entities didn’t have the resources at the time.

“You cannot separate the faith of this entire community, the city of Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Embedded in it is literally the living tradition of people who have come here and established their faith traditions.”

An issue that is facing Milwaukee is poverty and Archbishop Listecki said the best way to break the cycle of poverty is through education, noting how Catholic schools and parochial schools in general have been successful in helping break that cycle.

He referred to a Notre Dame study, “Lost Classroom, Lost Community,” that showed when a parochial school closed down, crime and poverty in the neighborhoods went up, while the interaction of social responsibility ceased.

“Faith drives who we are and what we do, and it drives us for the service to the community,” Archbishop Listecki said.