A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that Milwaukee is the most racially segregated metro area in the United States. It seems appropriate then, more than 50 years after Fr. James Groppi led marches to push for fair housing legislation, that Black Catholic leaders in the area gather with the community to discuss the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ latest pastoral document on racism.

“Despite many promising strides made in our country, the ugly cancer of racism still infects our nation,” the U.S. bishops said in their November 2018 pastoral letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism.”

The first of its kind in 40 years, the letter brings to light the sin of racism. Racism is present when a person holds his or her own race or ethnicity superior to others — either consciously or unconsciously — and therefore judges those of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard.

In response to this letter, the Black Catholic Ministry Commission and the Urban Initiative Office, both of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, are hosting two forums to discuss racism and this pastoral document in the Milwaukee Community.

Open Wide Our Hearts: A Call and Response will be held Saturdays, June 29 and Aug. 24, at St. Martin de Porres Parish.

The events will provide an opportunity to discuss whether the Church effectively addressed the issues of racism and does it go far enough on taking on the issue of racism in the pastoral letter.

Janat Davis, member of the Black Catholic Ministry Commission, explained that the title of the forums is intentional as it combines the title of the pastoral document followed with “Call and Response,” which stems from Black culture with its roots in Africa.

“It is a pattern of interaction between speaker and audience, it invites participation and fosters dialogue and understanding with and maybe challenges the people (who) are gathered,” she said. “It is probably best seen in the Black church as the preacher makes statements or calls, which are punctuated with responses from the congregation. Everyone is invited to participate, and responses could be communal or individual.”

Davis added that this is the intent of both sessions — to invite participation by members of the Black Catholic community to explore, discuss and respond to the pastoral letter.

“The U.S. bishops have issued a call and we are responding,” she said. “The first session focus is call and the second session focus is response.”

Anne Haines, Executive Director of Urban Initiative Milwaukee, and Mary Words, Black Catholic Ministry Committee Chair, will serve as spokespersons and facilitators of the forums.

“This session is crucial,” said Haines. “Open Wide Our Hearts is the first pastoral letter issued by the Bishops since 1979 that addresses racism — the last being “Brothers and Sisters to Us.” It is certainly a long time coming and it is pivotal that the first voices we hear in response to this document are the most gravely affected by the sin of racism.”

The idea for the two forums came about after Haines approached several members of the Black Catholic Ministry Commission to discuss the newly released document with them. A consensus among all members was that the document needed to be critically examined by Black Catholics first to provide some guidelines for study. The sessions will include presentations by local Black Catholic leaders, followed by small and large group discussions.

“We will be spending two Saturdays this summer praying, listening to reflections and then using guided questions to examine the pastoral letter,” said Haines. “We will be soliciting reactions to each part of the document. The second session will examine the remaining sections of the pastoral document that we were not able to cover in the first.”

Participants will explore action steps to be taken in their lives, parishes and community to address racism. Organizers suggest that program participants read the document, which is on the USCCB website, usccb.org.

Funding is provided by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Offices for Urban Ministry, Intercultural Ministries, Social Justice and Dignity of the Human Person, Marriage, Family Life and Catholic Stewardship Appeal.

Open Wide our Hearts: A Call and Response forum will take place Saturday June 29 and Saturday August 24 at St. Martin de Porres Parish, 128 W Burleigh St. Registration is at 8:00 am and the program runs from 8:30 am to noon. Contact Sandra Melcher, Publicist for the Black Catholic Ministry Commission, Archdiocese of Milwaukee, at samelch@yahoo.com if you have any questions.