MILWAUKEE — Catholic parishes throughout the Greater Milwaukee area join churches, mosques, synagogues and temples this weekend for an annual event designed to promote the virtues of praying for peace.

Since 2005, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has participated in Ceasefire Sabbath, a program spearheaded at the time by Mayor Tom Barrett and his office, with collaboration from religious leaders, including Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.

As in years past, this year’s program includes activities within participating religious organizations designed to discuss how congregants can work collaboratively with law enforcement and other city leaders to provide more peaceful and healthy neighborhoods.

During the past five years, Catholic parishes have joined with other houses of worship in the city by helping compile a lengthy list of what specifically can be done to curtail violence in the Milwaukee area. A sampling of the list includes:

  • learning  about mentoring opportunities for youth, families or individuals in need, including ex-offenders in Milwaukee, and organizing a team of mentors within congregations
  • studying spiritual teachings as a basis for non-violence
  • incorporating prayers or reflections for victims, perpetrators and their families into worship services
  • hosting a teen discussion session on why many popular movies and songs glamorize or encourage violence and, in some cases, inviting former gang members or current anti-gang activitists to the session to offer insight.

Some of the parishes within the Milwaukee Archdiocese will participate in these activities this weekend. In some cases, officials from Milwaukee City Hall and Milwaukee Police Department’s Office of Violence Prevention have offered resources for specific activities.

In a statement, Barrett said that since its inception, Ceasefire Sabbath has been an important part of the community, particularly within the religious community where an awareness of social justice is commonplace.

“(It) is a critical element in our efforts to galvanize the community in the mission to reduce crime and work for non-violence by inspiring hope and taking action,” Barrett, a Catholic and member of St. Sebastian Parish, Milwaukee, said. “The most effective work for peace requires engagement of the whole city, including vision and leadership from the faith community.”

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said he plans to continue backing the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s participation in Ceasefire Sabbath.

“Moving forward, I think it is a good idea to be a part of this,” Archbishop Listecki said. “For a lot of us within the church, we are the eyes and ears of the community. We’re right there. We’re right in the neighborhoods.”

Pointing to a decline in the number of crimes in Milwaukee – particularly violent ones – Archbishop Listecki said he believes Ceasefire Sabbath has been a success. In an e-mail communication with pastors and archdiocesan staff last week, Archbishop Listecki said raising awareness has been a good antidote for the issue.

“Violence often finds its root in lack of education, poverty or joblessness,” Archbishop Listecki wrote in the weekly communique, “Love One Another.” “It preys upon those who are the least likely to defend themselves – the elderly, children and the poor. Violence also feeds off itself.”

According to figures from the Milwaukee Police Department, overall crime in 2009 decreased 7.2 percent from the year prior and 11.9 percent from 2007. The drop was even steeper for violent crimes: aggravated assault, homicide, rape and robbery. Crimes in that category dropped 12.8 percent last year and 20 percent, compared to 2007 statistics.

Archbishop Listecki said parishes have found numerous means of supporting and participating in Ceasefire Sabbath. Some of those methods have included hosting call-in meetings and working with mission-minded organizations throughout the city.
“There is still more to be done,” Archbishop Listecki said. “The most important thing is that we do something.”

Rob Shelledy, archdiocesan coordinator for social justice ministry, said Ceasefire Sabbath is an important event each year as the Milwaukee Archdiocese continues to seek out events that promote unity, peace and reconciliation. Shelledy said he agrees with Archbishop Listecki’s assertion that the mission of Ceasefire Sabbath is being realized.

“Praying on a continued basis is extremely important,” Shelledy said. “It’s a call to our Christian faith to be a peacemaker to the community. We have been going in a positive direction.”