On Feb.1, at Saint Francis of Assisi Parish, the Black Catholic Steering Committee presented to me their plan for the Evangelization and vision for the Black Catholic Community. The definition of the word Catholic is “universal.” Jesus gave His great mandate, “go out, preach, teach, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Part of the best of the Church is found in the celebration of its diversity. We are composed of the richness of many cultures that have incorporated the Gospel message into their communities. I am reminded from my Catholic grade school social studies classes that our textbook said that the population of the United States was referred to as a “melting pot.” The idea was that the various ethnic cultures would be melted into one and unified. Instead, the Catholic text argued that the United States should be a mosaic. In a mosaic, the various parts maintain their own particular shape and form while contributing to the larger picture, which is created from their contributions. They contribute to the society but never lose their identity.
I like that image.
Last Thursday gave us an opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness which is the Black Catholic community and acknowledge the great contribution helping to form the body of Christ for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The Black Catholic Plan offers a framework for moving forward in collaboration with parishes and the Archdiocesan offices in furthering the work of ministry and evangelization. A number of areas were stated from vocations, catechesis, and evangelization to ministerial competence. This plan was presented to me after almost three years of discussion and planning. As with all ethnic and racial groups, there was pain in reviewing past actions which failed to respond to and recognize the needs of the community and at times to be ignored or even taken for granted by the very Church they trusted. However, this is a new moment and the committee challenged themselves to present the current strengths and to seize the day moving the community forward in the vision that has been established. They created realistic benchmarks, which challenged the Black Catholic Community and the Archdiocese as a whole to achieve.
The steering committee called upon experts and assistance from religious, clergy and lay faithful. One special contributor was Bishop Joseph Perry, whose reflections were captured in a monograph entitled “Black Catholic.” I was privileged to hear his presentation to the committee. His work was part spiritual, part historical and part visionary. I encourage all Catholics to read his reflection. The monograph can be accessed through the Office of Intercultural Ministries, which is ably led by Eva Diaz. I have publicly stated that there are parts of Bishop Perry’s work that would resonate with all believers and their own particular ethnic communities. However, this work was created by a Black American Catholic Bishop whose experience and faith is embedded in the expressions of a Black Catholic raised in the archdiocese.
He puts words to experience and faith to vision but most of all he gives hope to the plan going forward:
“We will offer a plan for the development of the black Catholic Community throughout our archdiocese. Our sojourn in history as a people says we can do this, for we have had to move and readjust a number of times over the course of our lives. And, we have done it well every time.
We are Catholic Christians, so we can do this. We are pilgrim Christians moving toward the kingdom, so we can do this. We respect one another, so we can do this. We love our Catholic faith, so we can do this. We are asked to do something new. Others will look back in history to our moment, at our faith and good works and hopefully applaud us for some courageous steps, so we can do this. For this is what it means to be Black and Catholic in these times. This is what vibrant faith and practice asks of us at this moment.”
The Chairwoman of the Black Steering Committee, Dr. Shawnee M. Daniels-Sykes, presented the direction of the Black Catholic Plan and acknowledged the work that has yet to be accomplished but the vision is now established.
This is a moment for us. It is not a matter of success based on organizational implementation but rather the commitment to Jesus and our willingness to be used by our Lord as an instrument of His power and glory. Therefore, this presentation was in the context of a prayer service trusting in God as we progress. The choir was outstanding as gospel music filled St Francis Church and invigorated the community that swayed and clap to every musical presentation. Father Michael Bertram, OFM Cap., pastor of St Francis of Assisi, was a gracious host and provided hospitality to all in the congregation. The Very Rev. Timothy Kitzke, Vicar General and Vicar for Urban Ministries, celebrated the reception of the plan as a potential blueprint for urban ministries.
Part of the plan is an internal check on the progress of its implementation. Plans are made every day but monitoring the plan and assessing its effectiveness is critical for a plan’s success. When Daniels-Sykes outlined the benchmarks and time frame of implementation, I personally gasped when the she said it will be reviewed in 2028.
I told her that I felt a bit like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his “I Have Been to the Mountain” speech. He envision a time in the future when many of the goals he was seeking might be achieved but understood that his vision may not include his personal presence: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But, I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I have looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
In 2028, I will not be the Archbishop of Milwaukee (bishops submit their resignation on their 75th birthday; for me in 2024). Of course, God or the Pope can remove me at any time. As we progress, I embrace the sentiments of Dr. King: “All we want to do is God’s will” and in that we find our success.