RACINE — “God anoints you … work miracles” was the theme for people of faith as the Catholic Association of Racine (CAR) kicked off its 2010 Catholic project with a citywide Mass and workshop in late January at St. Catherine High School.
As celebrant of the Mass, held in the auditorium, Fr. Allen Bratkowski, pastor of St. Richard Parish, empowered Catholics by explaining that they were all prophets appointed to a special mission and to put that mission to action.
“Racine is filled with hurting pain, but miracles flow with anointing through baptism,” he said. “Christ nourishes us through the Eucharist. We as a prayer community are prophetic voices and working hands to serve Jesus and love as God loves. We put love into action to serve as prophets in our Catholic Church.”
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Catholic Association of Racine
700 English St.
Racine, WI 53402
Following Mass, Laura Sumner-Coon, member of the strategic planning committee, explained the project that began in 2008 to draw Catholics in the Racine community together.
“The mission of the Catholic Association of Racine is to coordinate collaborative activities, education and faith practices for the Racine Catholic community, providing to all the opportunity to grow closer to God,” she said.
Members involved in CAR’s mission are from 10 Racine-area parishes. The organization’s board of directors consists of one member from St. John Nepomuk, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Joseph, St. Richard, St. Patrick, St. Rita, St. Mary by the Lake, St. Edward, and St. Sebastian parishes and a member from the Racine Dominicans.
The organization began to foster collaboration around education, which for years, divided area parishes, said Sumner-Coon.
“We learned that we could no longer be effective on that issue, but could be a strong force in uniting the Catholic community to strengthen faith formation and faith in action around Racine in ways a single parish could not accomplish alone,” she said.
To keep the mission of CAR alive, the organization began involving parishioners and those disenfranchised from the church to discuss the needs within the Racine community. A series of focus groups last year resulted in a list of questions to evoke discussion within various parishes to learn the most critical issues in the Racine community, who is missing in the churches, what would strengthen faith life and the area parishes’ best accomplishments.
The intent of the gatherings was not to name the problems in Racine, but to recognize what is important to Racine-area Catholics and discover opportunities to put their faith to action, and take strategic steps to make a difference outside the confines of their churches.
“We learned that Catholics in Racine wish to be united, establish an identity together beyond the parish walls and to collaborate on the issues where they think they can make a difference,” said Sumner-Coon. “Catholics are worried about the state of their church, their leadership, want support for all the people in the church and want to reach out to those who have left the church.”
Additionally, the group determined that Catholics desire greater meaning in their faith walk and wish to have more opportunities to live out their faith in the community.
“They feel that Catholics are good at uniting for a cause and finding a solution,” said Sumner-Coon, adding, “As a group within the greater Racine community, we could be making a difference in the way we live out our faith together.”
As groups continued to meet, eight areas of community concern surfaced, and included:
- Jobs and joblessness
- Health care
- Financial literacy
- Spirituality, outreach and inclusion
- Crime and violence prevention
To address those significant community issues, CAR hosted the kickoff event with members of the community offering suggestions on moving forward through breakout sessions on the eight topics. Attendees were invited to participate in groups that were areas they felt comfortable with, or most spoke to their hearts.
Speaking to a half-dozen individuals on crime and violence prevention, Sammy and Denise Rangel, program coordinators of SAFE Streets Outreach Program, a division of SAFE Haven, a non-profit agency to improve the quality of life for youths and families by providing safe living environments, crisis support and community intervention, discussed the organization’s operation.
“We try to reduce situations where kids can be exploited, harmed or abused, and work with prevention issues such as gang prevention,” said Sammy. “Our goal is to try to help kids get out of dangerous situations and work with families as well.”
SAFE Streets provides emergency shelter, street-based outreach and education, survival aid, assessments, counseling, intervention and follow-up support. SAFE streets works within the schools system, the juvenile justice system, as well as on the streets to reduce violence and crime.
“We don’t always succeed, and our job can be very sad,” Sammy admitted, “But we try to reach the kids, educate the families and identify danger signs and bad behaviors. We require the families to become more involved in their child’s life and not wait for me to solve their problems and we don’t continue the program if the families won’t work the program too.”
A lack of affordable and sound housing, shortage of rental assistance and lack of education on receiving financial assistance drew several attendees to learn about alternatives such as Habitat for Humanity.
Bringing a Catholic presence to Habitat for Humanity and developing a Catholic rental voucher program with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could address immediate needs to offset the current three-year waiting period for adequate housing in Racine.
“The housing group is planning to host an open forum in the near future to look at several possibilities, including the purchase of foreclosed homes for rehabilitation and sale to those eligible for Habitat for Humanity,” said Anna Marie Clausen, director of CAR.
To combat joblessness and underemployment, Jim Schatzman, representative of Racine Vocational Ministry, chronicled the issues of a lack of job skills, such as dressing, attendance issues, focus and job training.
Creating a collaborative Catholic job posting system, job mentors and career counseling are several methods for area Catholics to get involved.
Since the CAR meeting, a job fair, which drew more than 1,000 people, was held in early March at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine. (Catholic Herald, April 1)
Although the attendance at the CAR gathering was smaller than anticipated and required combining several groups into one, seeds were planted, admitted Clausen, who asked that each group come up with one to three actions that were doable for the coming year.
“We did hope for a larger attendance, but the people who came are very interested in making a difference and sharing their resources in the community,” she said. “We have several outside of the Catholic faith who are interested in working together ecumenically with the Catholics in the area to see what we can do. If we have to tackle less than the eight topics to begin with, that’s what we will do, but we are looking forward to doing something to help.”