Representatives of parishes throughout the Archdiocese had the opportunity last month to participate in the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which was held virtually this year and provided attendees with the opportunity to learn more about domestic and global issues of social justice.

During what several of them described as an “eye-opening” several days, attendees were able to “pray, learn and advocate together on the disparities revealed by COVID-19 and new models of justice and solidarity,” according to the website of the gathering, which was held Feb. 6-9.

This event has been held for more than 30 years and is presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, in partnership with 10 other USCCB departments and 18 national Catholic organizations.

Rob Shelledy, director, dignity of the human person and coordinator of social justice ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said that the gathering was “a reminder of the impressive expertise, scope, and simple people power the Catholic Church has to help our communities most closely reflect God’s love for all.”

“CSMG is an important opportunity because it reminds people that they are not alone in their ministry, and provides them with unique access to a wide range of national expertise,” he said. “As we learn about great ministries in other dioceses and parishes, we bring back to the archdiocese those ideas that enhance our mission here in southeast Wisconsin.”

Speakers at the gathering included Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, Archbishop of Manila; Archbishop José H. Gomez, President of the USCCB and Archbishop of Los Angeles; and Bishop David G. O’Connell, chairman of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Workshops during the conference explored topics such as COVID-19 relief (both financial and in the form of vaccine access), justice for migrant workers, the promotion of behavioral health, care for creation, racial justice, housing and hunger.

The scope of issues was “overwhelming, but in a good way,” said Amanda Gronemeyer, outreach coordinator for Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Random Lake.

“It gave me hope to see just how much good is being done already and how much creativity and hard work is being expended on furthering the work of Christ,” said Gronemeyer.

She reported that she was also impressed the conference did not shrink away from addressing issues within the Church itself with a critical lens. “Workers’ rights is also very important, and while I believe the Church speaks very eloquently on worker’s rights in Fratelli Tutti and Rerum Novarum, among other writings, it doesn’t always practice what it preaches,” she said. “Many Church workers, myself included, have bachelor’s degrees, some masters, and work full-time with the Church, but struggle to make a living and often have to secure part-time jobs outside of their Church job to be able to provide for themselves.”

At the conference, she learned about options for profit-sharing that have been espoused in parishes in other dioceses. “I didn’t even know that was a thing,” she said. “I am doing some networking and further research to see if there is anything that can be done with regard to workers’ rights in the Church and if it is an overall problem or if it is a problem limited to certain dioceses.”

Denise Murre, director of child ministry at St. John XXIII Parish in Port Washington, has wanted to attend a CSMG gathering for some time but in previous years was prohibited by the cost of traveling to the conference. The virtual option was the perfect opportunity for her this year, she said. The CSMG included advocacy meetings with staffers from participants’ local political representatives, and Murre was able to sit in on a virtual meeting with representatives of Wisconsin Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson.

“It was good to hear from two radically different points of view, and it was nice just to be able to have more of our concerns and our hopes put out there for them to get back to the senators,” she said. The meeting, she said, provided insight into the humanity that exists behind oftentimes polarizing political rhetoric.

“When you hear them speaking, it doesn’t seem like they’re even close at all (in terms of goals), but when we were there it’s like, well, they both want the same thing, they’re just going at it a different way,” she said.

The experience at the CSMG has inspired her to encourage her parish to delve more deeply into the prospect of supporting immigrant communities local to Port Washington.

“We are a farming community and we do have a lot of Hispanic farm workers in the area, and also quite a few in the restaurant industry. I really would like to have us explore that a little more carefully, especially for the farm workers,” she said. “A lot of them are food pantry clients and I just think it’s really against what we hold dear to us, through our faith, that they should be taking care of our food supply … and they can’t afford to feed their own families on what they’re making.”