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November 13, 2018, Detroit, Michigan – In a nation too often fraught with division and violence, parishioners from two Detroit parishes and one suburban parish got together on Sunday, November 4, to share “sacred conversations” and begin the process of unity between African-American and Caucasian Catholics, city and suburban parishes.
In a “Reverse Mass Mob,” more than 50 parishioners of Detroit parishes St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and Christ the King took a bus to St. Mary of the Hills Parish in the suburb of Rochester Hills, Michigan, to attend Mass and begin “sacred conversations” about their personal experience of race and racism.
Jennifer Wilson, Director of Evangelization for St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven, summed up the purpose of the event during the bus ride to St. Mary’s Church. “Hopefully, you’ll change or at least touch a life today,” she told the parishioners on the bus. “That’s the goal. It’s all about unifying the city and suburbs.”
Jennifer served on a committee of parishioners who planned the event, spearheaded by Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, a community organizer with Gamaliel of Michigan. The committee was made up of members of the two parishes, including Rose Nabongo, Carolyn Nash, Ruth Remus, Ron Eady, and Ben Washburn. Also involved were members of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), a community organizing nonprofit.
The Adrian Dominican Congregation supported the effort by paying for the bus, in light of the Congregation’s 2016 Chapter Enactment on Racism and Diversity, and through the leadership of Sister Cheryl. Other Adrian Dominican Sisters supported the event through their participation.
The spirit of unity in the face of racism permeated the morning and early afternoon. During Masses at both St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and St. Mary, Father Victor Clore preached on sacred conversations. The pastor of both St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and Christ the King, he framed the dialogue between Jesus and a scribe in the day’s Gospel as a sacred dialogue in which people share their truths and learn from one another.
Father Stanley Ulman, pastor of St. Mary, had prepared the suburban parishioners for the event in a letter in the parish bulletin. “I hope that our common worship will make us more aware of our urban brothers and sisters in the faith and help all of us to bridge the gap that exists within our Catholic faith community,” he wrote.
After Mass at St. Mary, city and suburban parishioners shared lunch and began the process of sacred conversation. Sister Cheryl explained the structures that have led to systemic racism. “The dominant narrative of fear, greed, and individualism” serves to divide people of different races and experiences, she said. “Our faith gives us the narrative of hope, abundance of goods, and community.”
Jennifer led the parishioners in their sacred conversations by sharing her own painful personal experience of racism. Participants were invited to do the same with the others at their tables – mixed groups of city and suburban parishioners.
“We have been engaged in sacred conversations in Detroit for three quarters of the year,” Jennifer said later. The Detroit parishes were challenged to take these discussions to the suburbs. “Everyone kept saying we need to cross 8 Mile [into the suburbs] if we are really going to get anywhere with this,” she explained. “On November 4, that is exactly what we did. … Discussions on race are uncomfortable, but if we do not have them the results are more than uncomfortable.”
The sacred conversations are only the start of an intentional effort by the parishioners to continue the process of honesty and unity. The brief session ended with a commitment by members of St. Mary Parish to travel to St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven Church to plan together for a similar effort next year.
Participants took the time days after the event to reflect on what the Reverse Mass Mob had meant to them.
“What surprised me the most was the discovery of folks who are part of St. Mary of the Hills’ parish who have themselves experienced racism because of their cultural background – Hispanic, Asian etc.,” said Sister Anneliese Sinnott, OP, of St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish.
Ruth Remus, a parishioner of St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and Christ the King Parishes in Detroit, found the Reverse Mass Mob to be “spiritually uplifting and an exciting time to be together in church.” The event “definitely began a conversation between city and suburban Catholic churches on racism,” she said.
Another urban parishioner, Darlene Brooks said she has been part of the sacred conversations since the beginning. “Our encounter with St. Mary of the Hills was indeed inspiring and gave me a reason to hope for the future,” she said, adding that the Reverse Mass Mob reminded her of the words to the song Love Train. “The words call on people all over the world to get on board,” she said.
Sister Grace Keane, OSF, Christian Service Coordinator for St. Mary of the Hills Parish, helped to organize the event. She was especially surprised by the size of the crowd and by the number of parishioners who were willing to serve on the committee. “The table conversation was varied, impactful, and left one determined to dig deep into enduring racial issues,” she said.
Denis Naeger, also of St. Mary of the Hills, noted that the attendance – at more than 60, twice the number expected – was a blessing. He added he is “looking forward to the reverse mob Mass experience in Detroit” next year.
DeJuan Bland, an organizer for MOSES said the event was a “refreshing first step for this group concentrated on being the hands and feet of Christ in a very necessary way.”
Feature photo: Jennifer Wilson, right, one of the organizers of the Reverse Mass Mob, boards the bus from her church, St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven in Detroit, with Sister Cheryl Liske, OP.
July 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters added their voices to thousands of others on June 30 as they participated in Families Belong Together marches throughout the United States. Demonstrations throughout the nation protested the U.S. immigration policy that has separated children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as the families attempted to enter the United States without formal documents.
Sister Corinne Florek was one of about 2,000 people to attend a rally at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. “It was inspiring because most of the speakers were young children,” she recalled. “They reminded us of the children’s march during the fight for civil rights. One girl spoke of her father being taken by ICE and how that affected her.”
Sisters Mary Trzasko, OP, and Beverly Stark, OP, were present at the rally in Charleston, South Carolina. Sister Beverly made the connection between the current immigration issue and the history of slavery in the U.S. South. “We gathered on and all around the steps of the Court House in Charleston, South Carolina, which is only a few blocks away from where slaves were bought and sold and families separated,” she said. “It was wrong and cruel then and it’s wrong and cruel today.”
About 20 Adrian Dominican Sisters were present for the rally in Adrian. Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, noted that the people of Adrian have been consistently attending rallies calling for social justice – from the Poor People’s Campaign and March for our Lives to the June 30 Families Belong Together March. “There was a lot of enthusiasm,” she said. “It was very encouraging.” The rally began at 11:00 a.m., and by noon, the crowd had grown to 150.
“The rally was very well attended in spite of the heat,” said Sister Annette Sinagra, OP, who also attended the march in Adrian. “It was a great support for the children and families that have suffered so very much under the cruel policies of [President] Trump.”
Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, also joined the Adrian march. “I was grateful for everyone who came. I also appreciated the cars that went by and honked…in support of immigration reform.”
Sister Esther spoke of her own motive for attending the rally. “We can feel overwhelmed in these kinds of situations, like there’s nothing we can do,” she said. “I do not want to be silent. I must put my body, my heart, my spirit, to join with others, and it’s not just in protest, but in remembering the core values this democracy was founded on. There have been times in our American history when we have not protested enough. I don’t want this to be one of those times.”
Sister Kathleen believes the message of the rally in Adrian goes beyond the call for an end to cruel separation of families at the border. The underlying message of the June 30 rally and the other recent rallies is the same. “There’s a consistent message that voting in November is going to be very, very important,” she said. “We need to get out the vote in November because that’s the only way we’re going to make any changes.”
Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, a community organizer, attended the Families Belong Together Rally on July 2 in Saginaw, Michigan. She accompanied members of the Ezekiel Project of Saginaw, one of four organizations that were called upon to speak during the rally. About half of the people who attended the rally then went to the office of Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) to present a cage full of toys for the children at the border. The action was in reference to reports that children at the border had been put into cages.
Sister Virginia “Ginny” King, OP, attended two rallies in the Detroit area, the first in front of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building in Detroit. From there, she attended a related rally at the Hart Plaza in Detroit, traveling with “a small but diverse group,” she recalled.
Feature photo (top): Participating in the rally in Adrian are, from left, Sisters Joella Miller, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; Corinne Sanders, OP; Carmen Álvarez, OP; and Sara Fairbanks, OP.
Rally participants gather at the Court House in Charleston, South Carolina