ST. FRANCIS — About 200 leaders from the black Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gathered Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Cousins Center to help chart the future of the archdiocese.
Termed the Black Catholic Summit, the event was in response to a call for a focus on cultural diversity that emerged from the 2014 Archdiocesan Synod.
As a result of Sunday’s event, a Black Pastoral Plan with measurable goals will be crafted, according to Eva Diaz, director of Intercultural Ministries and summit organizer.
“It will provide indications of vibrancy and growth, as well as a structure of accountability,” she said of the plan, adding that it will be included in the ongoing implementation of the synod directives.
Expecting it will be released during the next eight to 12 months, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said much like the Hispanic Pastoral Plan released in November 2012, the Black Pastoral Plan will be incorporated through all the offices of the archdiocese.
In an interview with the Catholic Herald a day after the summit, the archbishop said he left the event with renewed optimism.
“I think the spirit of the day was really wonderful in terms of the vibrancy of bringing people together who love the church, who are committed to the church,” he said.
He added that he was pleasantly surprised that the group as a whole was forward looking and did not dwell on past hurts.
“Many of the people did not nurse the problems of the past but were much more forward looking,” he said. “When you talk in terms of hurts, we did hear parish closures, but we didn’t hear that as a recurrent theme. A couple people mentioned it, but it was much more forward looking, (more) what we are dealing with now today, what can we do to make it more vibrant going forward.”
In 1994, nine central city churches in Milwaukee were merged into two, a decision that upset some members of the black Catholic community. Fourteen years later, the archdiocese’s Office for Black Catholics was among several offices eliminated due to financial issues. Again, it was a decision that was looked upon unfavorably by some members of the black Catholic community.
Yet, the archbishop said he left the gathering believing that most attendees were looking forward, not back.
“I felt very good (about the day which) was topped off with that Mass with the All Saints combined choir,” he said. “You can’t help but be uplifted. The Gospel singing that is part of the black liturgy — it raises you up with an ability to basically embrace prayer and faith. It was a wonderful moment and a lot of credit goes to Eva Diaz, Letzbia Laing-Martinez who worked tirelessly to bring together the black Catholic community.”
Following opening remarks by Archbishop Listecki and summit facilitator, Shawnee Daniels-Sykes, associate professor of at Mount Mary University, Milwaukee, participants broke into small groups to discuss eight topics:
■ Formation for parish and diocesan leadership
■ Youth and young adult ministry
■ Discipleship and evangelization
■ Quality faith formation/adult catechesis
■ Social justice
■ Cultural diversity/racial justice
■ Liturgy and sacraments
Participants formed tables of about six to eight people each to discuss what the archdiocese was doing well in each area and ways in which it could improve.
After an hour of discussion, they gathered in the auditorium where one person offered a summary from each table discussion.
Common themes emerged, noted Archbishop Listecki.
“One thing you find out immediately, the concerns of the black Catholic community are oftentimes the same concerns of parishes in the archdiocese. As you can see, care for the youth, outreach of the youth — they are worried about losing young people and you heard that loudly and clearly and I smile because that is being experienced by all our parishes and communities. Vocations and the black Catholic community and how do you raise a sense of vocations, that was another one,” he said, explaining the task is now to “take a look at how we can empower, enliven the faith in the black Catholic community and parishes.”
Other topics raised in the general reporting session included the need to bring back an emphasis on individual confession, encouraging communal prayer for black Catholics during liturgical seasons such as Lent and Advent, and allowing youth to plan Masses to encourage greater participation.
Others called for more retreat programs, a focus on the issues such as capital punishment, bringing back something akin to the Catholic Youth Organization and two groups called on the Catholic Herald to do a better job of telling the story of the black Catholic community.
Evaluating the day, Daniels-Sykes told the Catholic Herald via email the summit was important to the development of a pastoral plan for the approximately 3,000 black Catholics in the archdiocese, but also a chance for the community to gather in the context of “faith forward.”
“It was great to see in picture and the theme song, ‘We’ve Come this Far by Faith,’” she said, referring to a slide show presentation featuring the past century of black Catholic history in the archdiocese.
“That is truly something to celebrate. But “without a plan, people perish. The plan is definitely important and as much input that we can gather the better for ownership and appreciation as we move forward into the future,” Daniels-Sykes said.
Noting that she has heard nothing but positive comments about the day, she said some participants likened it to a family reunion, while others were happy with the special attention given to the youth and young adults.
“There was great energy at the liturgical celebration and the reception. I think that those gathered felt heard and respected,” she said, adding, “We are truly on our way to faith forward!”
Describing herself as an optimistic and faith-filled person, Daniels-Sykes issued one note of caution.
“My major concern is that it seems that the more things change, that it seems that more things have stayed the same. The eight topical areas are not new concerns for anyone who has been engaged in these particular ministries,” she said, calling for creative, innovative ways to have black Catholics involved in all areas of parish and diocesan life and ministries.
She added that “institutionalized and unconscious racism must be addressed, otherwise it continues to prevent all of us from being an authentic, multi-culturally and multi-ethnically diverse universal church where we are ‘all one in the Body of Christ,’ among many others.”
Participant Iretha Johnson, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee, said she came to the summit primarily out of curiosity. A Baptist who converted to Catholicism when her children attended Catholic school, she said she loves the Catholic Church and in particular said her parish is warm and welcoming.
The summit was a chance for her to learn more about the church, she said, adding she doesn’t think there should be a division between “black and white. I think we should be all Catholics.”