Parishioners at St. Adalbert gathered Oct. 27 to pray for an end to violence on the South Side. SeveralSouth Side parishes held similar prayer services that evening. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Ricardo Martin)

South Side pastors are working together to address violence and its impact on their communities.

According to Fr. Juan Camacho, Vicar for Hispanic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, “The coming together came about due to some increase in violence in the South Side. There was amongst priests a desire to do more as Catholic churches to help bring peace and resolution to many of the problems in the South Side.”

Fr. Timothy Manatt, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Patrick parishes, listed recent examples of violence that affected his parishioners.

“I’ve presided over two funerals that were the result of homicide. My church has been broken into several times. There was a groom who had to take a call before his wedding because his wife (to be) had been a witness to a carjacking,” Fr. Manatt said. “My colleagues have similar stories about people who have been assaulted, held up at gunpoint or shot.”

The violence prompted Fr. Javier Bustos to email South Side pastors last August, suggesting a coordinated response to the violence, according to Fr. Manatt.

“His email said, ‘Thirteen people were shot last weekend. Might we get together to talk about some coordinated response on behalf of the pastors who serve the majority of the Spanish-speaking population,’ as many of the wounded and dead were Hispanic,” said Fr. Manatt.

The archdiocese’s annual gathering of clergy was just a few weeks later, so the priests decided to take that opportunity to meet and discuss next steps. They held an informal roundtable during lunch. “We met to brainstorm ideas and possibilities to address the issues. We agreed that we will invite the police and civil servants from the city to discuss the issues and start to work in collaboration with them,” said Fr. Camacho.

They set a meeting date of Oct. 6 for a larger gathering, which was hosted by St. Adalbert Parish. Participants included 12 priests, as well as representatives from two South Side police precincts, the community outreach director from the Milwaukee Police Department, representatives from the mayor’s office and the common council, and Shanedra Johnson, Director of Urban Ministry from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“We talked about how we might organize to resist some of the violence, to alleviate some of the suffering of many of our families around violence,” said Fr. Manatt.

In addition to discussing actions their parishes could take, Fr. Manatt said they also listened, and learned of positive efforts from the police and their district’s representative.

One of the first outcomes from this meeting was concurrent evening prayer services, held at parishes throughout the South Side Oct. 26. Fr. Manatt explained that while each parish decided the specifics for their own services, they all included a gathering at the entrance to the church, a procession through the neighborhood, “as a public display of faith and community action,” and prayers for peace in the South Side and in the world.

The priests have planned a second meeting on Nov. 10 “to open a process of dialogue, to have a constant conversation, especially with the police,” said Fr. Ricardo Martin, the Pastor at St. Adalbert. Additional participants have been invited from local nonprofits, including a mental health clinic.

“Everyone is affected one way or another by different forms of violence in the South Side,” said Fr. Martin. “We hope to collaborate with everybody to make sure they feel there are things they can do.”