Witness to the power of prayer was in evidence Wednesday night, Aug. 13, as nearly 600 people gathered for a concelebrated Mass for Peace at St. Francis of Assisi Church – a Mass at a Milwaukee parish in an area of the city that has been ravaged by violence.
Capuchin Fr. Michael Bertram, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, termed it a “celebration of power … a power of faith – a power we have in Jesus Christ.”
That power was noted by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, principal concelebrant, during his homily based upon Matthew 5:13-16.
“You are the light and salt of the world. You carry Christ into the world,” he told the overflow congregation. “Knowing that you are empowered to do the good, to understand that your prayer moves you to action, that that action in whatever way, shape or form you do it, you do it in his name and it becomes far greater than what we could ever imagine on our own.”
The archbishop noted that the evening’s prayer was a statement that people were working on the same mission – “Our mission is for peace.”
He continued, “We pursue what leads to peace, casting a light on what is good and pleasing to God and dispelling what harms God’s family. Christ is the light, and prince of darkness cannot exist in that light!”
Archbishop Listecki said those who bring violence to the community need “the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of apathy, the night of isolation.”
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“We must pledge ourselves to be salt and light for communities, understanding that we begin with prayer and our action leads us to proclaim his peace in building up one another,” he said.
Cheryl McGee, a St. Francis parishioner for 40 years, said her parish continues to pray for an end to violence.
“We pray for our children and we want people to be safe and keep faith in God that everybody is going to be OK,” she said.
McGee cited the importance of the archbishop celebrating the Mass.
“I hope his presence gives people a sign that he cares – that he cares and is praying with us for an end to the violence,” she said.
Deacon Edward Blaze, a member of All Saints Parish, Milwaukee, added, “We come together when there’s a need to come together, and there’s a great need in this city for peace.”
Acknowledging that groups came to the Mass from various communities, Fr. Bertram said, “(They are) reminding us this is not just a problem of the central city; it’s something that concerns us all. It’s a powerful signal of our community praying for our city at a time when we need it.”
Among those participating was the cluster that includes the Menomonee Falls parishes of St. James, St. Mary, St. Anthony, and Good Shepherd, and St. Agnes, Butler. It brought 46 people to the Mass.
Fr. Michael Moran, pastor of St. James, said, “It’s encouraging that it wasn’t only people who live in the central city.”
Sam McLain Jr., a member of St. Francis of Assisi for 10 years, and piano accompanist at St. Francis and All Saints, accompanied the 60-member choir that included members from St. Francis, All Saints, St. Martin de Porres and Lumen Christi, Mequon.
“It was beautiful,” he said of the celebration and the choir. “I wanted to show that this thing is bigger than black, white, yellow, brown; the murders and homicides going on in Milwaukee affect everybody as a whole.”
McLain anticipates that similar Masses will be celebrated throughout the community.
“It will show people in community that we (Catholic Church) actually care,” he said. “We really do care. We want to try and help to make a difference.”
Fr. Bertram concurred.
“The Catholic Church is as concerned as any community about the issues that plague the central city, be it violence and killing, or the other issues that are related to it,” he said, noting it was important for church leadership, laity and clergy, to say, “We need to pray about this, we need to come together to invoke God – God be with us, us, lead us, strengthen.”
Launch pad for discussion, action
Although he sees the challenges facing the community as “formidable,” Fr. Bertram expressed optimism about what might result from the Mass for Peace.
“It was a launch pad here tonight. I’ll be excited to hear what ideas come out from folks from this night,” he said, referring to discussions about what the church should do to address problems in the city.
“We’ve got to do something now. We’ve prayed, we’ve called upon God. Now it’s time for action,” Fr. Bertram said. “Our faith is not stagnant and the issues that we have cannot allow us to be stagnant either. We have to be out there doing something.”
One man’s persistence led to mass for peace
Brian T. Olszewski
Catholic Herald Staff
James T. Henry Jr. recalls approaching Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in a hallway at the Cousins Center during the June 7-8, 2014, Archdiocesan Synod.
“I told him, ‘We need your presence in the black community; we need you to come to St. Francis of Assisi,’” Henry, a synod delegate from St. Francis of Assisi Parish, told the Catholic Herald, Friday, Aug. 14, the day after the archbishop was the principal celebrant at a Mass for Peace at the parish.
On and off over the next 12 months, Henry, a retired Milwaukee Public Schools principal and a self-described “go-getter,” contacted the archbishop’s office and spoke with his pastor, Capuchin Fr. Michael Bertram, about the archbishop celebrating Mass at St. Francis of Assisi.
The priest told the Catholic Herald he wrote to the archbishop in June, inviting him to come to St. Francis, “suggesting prayer for safety in the city.” From that correspondence evolved the idea of a weeknight Mass for Peace to which the entire community would be invited.
Near the end of the Aug. 13 celebration, Henry was singled out by Fr. Bertram, as being the person who presented and pursued the idea for the Mass.
Prior to the Mass, Henry addressed the congregation.
“Formidable though it may be, we can get through this (violence). With God, we can move the mountains of weapons that plague our city. With God, nothing is too hard as long as we have God. With God, I can,” he said. “We call upon God to be with us and to stem the tide of violence and killings in our neighborhoods, for as great as the struggle may seem to be, with God, I can get through this.”
Asked the following day to describe his feelings about the Mass for Peace, he told the Catholic Herald, “There are not enough words in Webster’s Dictionary to describe what happened last night.”