July 17, 2020, Winter Park, Florida – As the summer of 2020 continues to heat up with discussion and protests over racism, a small group of parishioners at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park, Florida, have begun to study the issue – as one step toward addressing racism in their area.
“The whole program evolved because of the situation in our society, and we wanted to respond in some way,” said Sister Rosemary Finnegan, OP, who has ministered at St. Margaret Mary Parish for about 30 years. She co-facilitates the four-week, one-hour Zoom discussion program along with Angela Jones, a member of the parish’s young adult group.
Participants prepared for the discussion program ahead of time with copies of the Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, a pastoral letter approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in November 2018. Participants also received other resources to help them study the document and are making use of a study guide.
Sister Rosemary said she met with the parish’s Social Justice Committee to discuss responses to racism. Committee members originally wanted to offer an eight-week study program sponsored by JustFaith, which would have involved 2 ½ hour sessions on Zoom. The shorter discussion of the present program gives parishioners the opportunity to get started in studying the issue of racism at a less intense pace, she said. Hopes are to begin the JustFaith sessions when the meetings can be in person.
Among the more than 20 participants in the online study are members of the parish’s young adult group, who also want to address racism. The discussion group has become “a nice mixture of ages and races,” offering diverse voices on the issue, Sister Rosemary said.
“There is some diversity in the group and the first night we shared experiences we’ve had personally regarding racism,” Sister Rosemary said. ”Some shared their personal experiences of prejudice and stereotyping as Afro Americans and Hispanics; others shared their awareness of incidents that happened to their friends.”
Sister Rosemary recalled speaking to her brother-in-law, a Black man, for the first time about his experiences as a youth, a military man, a professional in his field, and as a Black man married to a white woman. “Needless to say, I was deeply moved and deeply grateful for his honesty,” she said. “Building relationships with others who share different experiences really became an important realization to me once again.”
St. Margaret Mary is responding to the racism crisis in other ways as well. St. Margaret Mary Parish, along with other organizations in Winter Park, work together as part of an organization called Bridging the Color Divide. Sister Rosemary explained the division of Winter Park – “literally divided by railroad tracks” – into the affluent East side and the West Side. “The West Side has built itself up into a very strong African-American community,” Sister Rosemary said.
Through Bridging the Color Divide, people from both sides of Winter Park have begun to come together. “People from the East Side meet regularly with the leaders and the church of the West Side,” Sister Rosemary said. “We have community gatherings, fairs, educational events so that we can get to know each other a little bit better and share our cultures.”
Bridging the Color Divide held an Hour of Power, a praise service attended by about 50 to 60 community members, including faith leaders from both sides of town. “It was a wonderful coming together in solidarity and unity, to show our agreement to end racism and our desire to continue our efforts to go forth from there in a spirit of prayer,” Sister Rosemary said. The event – planned by Msgr. Richard Walsh, the pastor, and Fire Inspector Ed Mitchell – took place on June 19, known as Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of slaves in the United States.
The efforts against racism are only one aspect of the social justice involvement of the parishioners of St. Margaret Mary. For more than 10 years, the parish has worked with parishes in Haiti, helping them to improve the lives of the people in their local communities. “Haiti is a very sad situation,” Sister Rosemary said, noting that the cases of COVID-19 in that country have been growing. “The food supply is very scarce. The money we’re sending them is for food relief, but most of their food is imported.”
While the population of the parish is predominantly white, Sister Rosemary said, “Father Walsh has a real sense of outreach and desire to reach out to people of other races and cultures, and people who are economically poor and oppressed.”
One form of outreach is to low-income people in the local area. “Parishioners bring food items so we can stock the food pantries that we support in the area,” Sister Rosemary said. “People have been very generous. We’ve gotten three times as much food as we usually get.”
The Christian Service Ministry at St. Margaret Mary Parish offers a number of outreach programs, from family ministries to a program that addresses human trafficking; and Purls and Prayers, a knitting and crocheting ministry in which members create prayer shawls, blankets, caps, or other garments for people facing difficult transitions in their lives.
Feature photo: Attending the Hour of Power planned by Bridging the Color Divide are, from left, Michael Deal, Police Chief of Winter Park; Msgr. Richard Walsh, Pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish; and Ed Mitchell, Fire Inspector for Winter Park.
Thank you St Margaret Parish for this parish gathering to become more aware of our whit privilege. An article in Soujourners Magazine reported that the Bishops failed to condemn symbols associated with racism such as the confederate flag, swastikas and nooses. Thank you Sr Judith