Jesuit Fr. Jose Moreno wanted to make a change. For years, the pastor of St. Patrick and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes on Milwaukee’s south side said he’s been hearing from parishioners, past and present, about violence in the city. He wanted to gather the community to make a visible commitment to promoting peace in the streets.
“I was tired of that,” Fr. Moreno said, adding there is too much talk and not enough action. “We pray for peace and (say) let’s bring peace; that doesn’t help. It helps if I say, ‘I’m going to be a peaceful person.’”
Fr. Moreno celebrated Mass on Sunday, Oct. 5, at St. Patrick Parish, as parishioners were packed shoulder to shoulder in the pews. In the back of the church were two rows of mothers with children on their hips, husbands with their arms around their wives, and friends standing with friends, all expressing a shared concern for their neighborhoods.
“I decided to do something meaningful for the community about peace,” Fr. Moreno said. “We have more and more families that are divided. Children who are scared to go to school because it is very violent.”
After Mass, Fr. Moreno quickly changed out of his vestments and went to the entrance of the church to welcome guests he invited for this event.
Waiting for him was Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and 12th district Alderman Jose Perez. They marched up the middle aisle, preceded by a group of children waving flags.
Fr. Moreno said he invited them so they can see for themselves the community they represent.
“I wanted them to commit themselves and get to know us, know the community,” Fr. Moreno said. “Sometimes I feel like an invisible person. They don’t know too much about us.”
Moore spoke to the crowd about the importance of gatherings like this.
“We have got to teach peace education,” Moore said. “And it is so important to start right here where the children learn how to solve their problems in a peaceful manner and it’s not going to happen automatically.”
Barrett emphasized the impact that faith has on difficult situations.
“We are all on this Earth on a beautiful Sunday morning,” he said. “If we understand there is a purpose and there is a prayer greater than ourselves, we’re more likely to have hope and peace.”
Barrett also used the moment as a recruitment event for Milwaukee Police Department.
“It is important that our police department reflect the diversity within our community,” Barrett said. “This is the first time in four years that we’re opening up the application process.”
Barrett said individuals age 21 and older, could apply to be in the MPD until Oct. 17. Individuals between the ages of 17 and 19 can apply to be a police aide and fire cadet until Dec. 5.
Moore’s and Barrett’s comments were translated into Spanish for the congregation.
On the way out of Mass, 16-year-old Jesus Tirado, a junior at St. Anthony High School, Milwaukee, picked up a flier for the police aide and fire cadet program.
“I’m going to look into this,” Tirado said. “Peace should be a good thing for everyone because violence doesn’t (get resolved) with violence.”
Although he’s never worried about his own safety, Tirado said peaceful conflict resolution is key in defusing any situation.
“As long as you don’t get into problems with other people then you’re good,” Triado said. “But then if you do, try not to use violence; try to use words to solve the problems.”
Ellis Maniz, St. Patrick parishioner and mother, said she’s grateful she hasn’t had to deal with violence head on, but she knows it isn’t far away.
“I do think about and worry about it because you never know when it’s going to knock on your door,” Maniz said who attended Mass with her son. “Just imagine if something were to happen to my only child.”
Her son, Michael, is a sophomore at Marquette University High School; she hopes the lessons she teaches at home are used at school.
“As a mother, the first thing that I try to teach him is love,” she said. “He needs to lead by example in order to give others what we should be giving which is love, friendship, compassion, and helping others.”