ROCHESTER — When a speaker at Urban Ministry Day emphasized the need to walk with the poor, the message resonated with parishioners of Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford, who said it hit straight to the core of their urban mission.
“We needed to take another step and enter into a relationship with the poor and understand the daily struggles of the cycle of poverty,” said Karen Nowlan, coordinator of Transfiguration’s Justice and Peace committee. “To fully celebrate the Eucharist, we need to respond to the Gospel call to be in solidarity with those struggling ‚Ä¶ (and) the disenfranchised.”
About 88 people from urban and suburban parishes attended the first-ever Urban Ministry Day, presented May 21 at St. Francis Xavier/Holy Redeemer Church. Bishop Matthew H. Clark and Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy spoke during the daylong program, which was designed to disseminate information about the many gifts and talents of staff in urban churches as well as foster new relationships between different communities, said Brother Juan Lozada, director of the diocese’s Spanish Apostolate. The event was organized by Parish Support Ministries’ staff and members of the Urban Ministry Task Force.
“People really don’t know what’s going on in the urban churches,” Brother Lozada observed. So, having a day to share and celebrate what goes on in urban ministry helps people understand its importance, he added.
“It’s important we understand who we are, how we are called and how we respond to the immediate needs of our community as a faith-filled Catholic Christian community,” she said.
Through participation in a 30-week JustFaith program on the church’s social teachings, members of the social-justice committees at Transfiguration have developed a partnership with St. Andrew Parish on Portland Avenue. Members of the Transfiguration committees attend Mass once a month with St. Andrew parishioners to build solidarity with the Rochester community. On one Sunday last month, parishioners from both churches went door to door, surveying St. Andrew’s neighbors about their spiritual and physical needs and how the church can help meet those needs, said Transfiguration’s Trish Goodman.
In praising Rochester’s Catholic churches, Mayor Duffy observed that their urban ministries offer many services to city residents through schools and programs for the poor, and even by helping former prisoners adjust as they are released back into society.
“What you do really does make a difference,” he said.
Bishop Clark acknowledged that the diocese also faces challenges in its urban ministry, such as deciding how to best allocate resources.
“We are continually assessing how we use our material resources,” he said. “We need to be judicious and reasonable and global in those decisions. ‚Ä¶ That’s tricky for any entity, whether a city or a church.”
Gathering together people who are involved in such ministry allows for new ideas and strategies to be shared, and helps avoid duplication of efforts, he added, noting that this sharing of ideas also helps the diocese in making decisions about the ministry’s future as the pastoral-planning process moves forward.
“We are going to do the best we can to be a strong, healing and reconciling presence in this city,” he said. “It’s important for us to have a deepened sense of unity and draw strength from each other.”
The work of urban ministry is essential to the mission of the church, said Marvin Mich, director of social policy for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, who spoke of the disparate circumstances city residents can find themselves in depending on where their neighborhood is located.
“Not too far from where we (his family) live, kids live on another planet,” Mich said during this talk at the conference. “There are no music lessons, no violin lessons, no books. ‚Ä¶ Rochester is the best place to live and the worst place to live, depending on which Rochester you’re born into.”
To work on such issues as the extreme poverty, crime and violence that affect so many city families, Catholics should work with members of other faiths to develop ecumenical efforts addressing those struggles, Mich said. Too often, he said, people in urban ministry become so good at what they do that they isolate themselves from others doing similar work and need to reconnect with other community groups so as to avoid duplicating efforts.
Father David P. Reid — a former pastor of Rochester’s Ss. Peter and Paul Church who now serves as regional superior of India for the Congregation of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary — also spoke of the need to look at the big picture when it comes to urban ministry.
“While our attention in urban ministry is given to those most vulnerable to falling through the cracks, such attention has an affect on all because we are all vulnerable in the struggle for the sustainability of cities,” he said.
Maggie Torres, a Rochester resident who works at Mercy Outreach Center to help other city dwellers, said the gathering reinforced her hope for the future of the city.
“If we work together, change may happen,” she said. “A lot of good may come out of this.”