Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki speaks to the Milwaukee media after the Mass and Holy Hour of prayer for peace on Monday, Oct. 16, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee. (Submitted photo)
Leaving the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on the evening of Monday, Oct. 16, Jodi Reesman’s heart was light. It was a dramatic shift from how she felt when she entered the sanctuary two hours earlier, overwhelmed by what she was seeing on the news and social media about the Israel-Hamas war.
“Now I feel a renewed sense of my job as a Catholic to bring peace to our world, my community and my family,” she said.
Reesman, a Menomonee Falls resident, was one of the more than 300 Catholics and community members in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who gathered at the Cathedral that day, where a special Mass and Holy Hour of prayer for peace was taking place in response to the violence in the Middle East.
“I think we are all feeling heavy-hearted and fearful,” said Fr. Tim Kitzke, who celebrated the Mass and serves as the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist Rector and Pastor, and Vicar General for Urban Ministry. “But there is a sense the Church calls us to peace and justice against the violent forces of the world. We say, ‘no, violence doesn’t win; goodness wins.’”
The Mass was an opportunity to pray for peace and offer a public expression of support from the Catholic community, for all of the victims of violence following the devastating attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and resulting violence in the Gaza Strip. Kitzke noted it was fitting that such a Mass be celebrated at the “Mother Church” of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee — the Cathedral — at the center of the city.
“We want to send forth the message that we want to offer our support wherever we can,” Fr. Kitzke said. “Most importantly, in prayer.”
Fr. Kitzke, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land 30 years ago and was scheduled to visit again at the end of October, called to mind one of his favorite places to visit during his homily: a shrine at the foothill of the Mount of Olives with a magnificent view of the city. This place is called Dominus Flevit, he said, which means “the Lord wept” in Latin. It is where Jesus cried for Jerusalem in the scriptures.
“He cried because even then people weren’t getting along,” Fr. Kitzke said. “There was fighting and division. Things were done in the name of religion that created disharmony, disunity and violence.”
But that is not the end of the story.
“We believe in our tradition, in this Eucharist that we have every week, (that) love always wins,” Fr. Kitzke said. “We believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the mystery of his life. It shows us that if you treat people with compassion, mercy and forgiveness, goodness always triumphs.”
Sharing this message and inviting the community into the church is just part of Fr. Kitzke’s daily outreach at the Cathedral. He noted that during Bastille Days, festival revelers were invited to pray and light a votive candle for peace; by the time the festival was over, the altar was encircled by 700 glowing flames.
“We are a church that opens up its heart, takes people as they are, but challenges them to dream to be better than they could be,” he said.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee often quickly plans and offers Masses and other opportunities to pray as part of the Catholic response to tragedy, said Susan McNeil, who serves as the Director of the Office for Catholic Social Responsibility.
“In moments of loss, fear and helplessness — in the face of national and international tragedies — it is important that we do what is part of our very Catholic identity: to gather together as a community, to commend to our Lord all those who have died, to pray for the sick and injured, and to pray for peace,” McNeil said.
Fr. Kitzke, who was once asked if he was a wizard when wearing his vestments during a street festival, shared that there is no magical solution to the violence that plagues the community or the world.
“It’s a matter of perseverance,” he said to conclude his homily. “It’s a matter of taking a chance, even when sometimes you don’t feel peaceful in your heart, to be peace wherever you go. We are beginning and continuing a very long process of trying to be Christ in the world. Things aren’t going to happen overnight, but hopefully our prayer together will make a start. The world will be a little bit better tomorrow because all of you are here tonight to pray for peace.”