MILWAUKEE — Members of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s recently formed Black Catholic Ministry Commission met with members of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium on Saturday, Oct. 8 to discuss issues within the black Catholic community.
About 30 members of the BCTS from Chicago, Louisiana and Washington, gathered at St. Martin de Porres Church, Milwaukee, and listened to presentations about the history of the BCMC, marriage, HIV/AIDS in the community and the importance of preaching in prison. But one subject seemed to underline all the rest: The black Catholic community feels ignored by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Fr. Bryan Massingale, associate professor of theology at Marquette University and president of the BCTS, said that’s a common experience among black Catholics.
“We feel that we are over looked in the archdiocese, a feeling if we’re going to accomplish something we need to accomplish it on our own,” Fr. Massingale said. “As black Catholic theologians, we want to make sure that our theology reflects the experience, the cultural experience, of black Catholics.”
Antoinette Mensah, commission member, spoke about the history of the commission and the history of black Catholics in Milwaukee.
“We’ve been working on this process to be official, more or less, since the Archdiocese of Milwaukee decided to close the office of black Catholic ministry,” Mensah said. “This is a group of people who said ‘we are not going to be silent. We’re not going to disappear.’”
Since 2008, when Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan restructured the administration of the archdiocese, the Office for Inter-Cultural Ministry, coordinated by Eva Diaz, has been the consultant for various cultural groups, including African/African America, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander. Under the restructuring, the work and ministry of several offices, e.g., African American Ministry, continued to be done by commissions, i.e., Black Catholic Ministry Commission.
BCMC has sponsored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prayer services, Mass during African World Festival, the Umoja Marriage Ministry, the Brother Booker Ashe Lay Ministry Program, and Kujenga Youth Leadership Retreat. In addition, the BCMC is part of the National Black Catholic Congress.
Fr. Massingale said the purpose of this event, and other similar events, is to gather the scholar community with the local black community to have a discussion about what is occurring.
“One of the things we want to do is listen to the voices of the people,” Fr. Massingale said. “What we saw here is a group of very dedicated Catholic lay men and women who have persevered in the faith despite many obstacles and misunderstandings. They’ve shown the resiliency of black Catholics and black Catholic faith in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”
Cecilia Smith-Robertson, commission member, spoke about AIDS/HIV in the black community and the need for more churches to support their parishioners who are affected by the virus.
Overall, people were optimistic about the event and the work of the commission.
“What was not surprising, but moving, was to hear people talk about the importance of their faith and how proud they are in their faith,” Fr. Massingale said. “We see a black Catholic community that has, in a sense, a new maturity about itself, that it wants to be responsible for its faith and responsible for passing on that faith.”