New life for parishes


The National Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Parish Ministry Project has revitalized the community life and pastoral leadership of US parishes. Bishop Howard Hubbard was optimistic about the evolving parish in his speech to the National Council for Pastoral Planning and Council Development.

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QUIETLY, without much publicity, American Catholic parishes are showing signs of life and growth. After a period of painful consolidation and even the loss of some parishes, many that remain are undergoing a subtle transformation in active community life and pastoral leadership.

This is not an accident, but the result of careful analysis and planning to energize the considerable good will of the faithful. Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N. Y., recently addressed the National Council for Pastoral Planning and Council Development and shared with them his reflections and vision of the evolving parish. Recognizing that the ecclesiological, theological and sociological scenes in American Catholicism are rapidly changing, he believes that the parish community has been and will continue to be the center of the church’s life and its fourfold mission: to proclaim the Gospel, to worship, to build community and to offer healing services to people in need. The foundation of the church’s efforts, he says, is the baptismal call of each member to advance the mission and ministry of Jesus in our world.


Bishop Hubbard cited four characteristics that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Parish Ministry Project found to contribute to healthy, mature, spiritually alive parish communities. They are, stated simply, good liturgy and preaching, practical approaches to problems such as alcoholism, crime, drug abuse and issues of family life, a sense of ownership and, finally, a feeling that something is going on for everyone. He proposed these characteristics as realistic goals and noted four practical proposals that flow from a collaborative model of ministry: evangelization, collaboration with clear mutual expectations, stewardship and, lastly, the quality of the worship of the eucharistic community.

Bishop Hubbard is a realist. He recognizes all the pitfalls, from the priest shortage and shifting demography to a blurring of roles and duties in the newly emerging patterns. He optimistically suggests that this evolving situation presents an opportunity to better appreciate the theology of baptism and collaborative ministry. The characteristics and challenges he noted are not limited to the ideal, affluent parish; they apply to all.

He stressed the need to develop communities that will bear witness to the fact that the church is concerned about persons and personal values; and the signs of that concern will be acts of warmth, kindness and presence among the members.

Continuing theological education for ministry must be a priority, as must opportunities for retreats and other formational activities that will help ministers grow spiritually. Bishop Hubbard considers members of religious orders and congregations to be in a unique position to help parishes address these challenges. They have had extensive experience integrating prayer with the hectic demands of their apostolates. This blending of the active with the contemplative in a meaningful daily pattern of prayer is something the whole church needs to experience.

Bishop Hubbard clearly strikes a chord when he offers his analysis of problems and needs. There is a chorus of support already sounding in harmony with him. Some recent examples:

* In this issue of AMERICA John A. Coleman, S.J., reports his own insights (delivered at the John Courtney Murray Forum Lecture last week at Fordham University in New York) about the recovery of appreciation for community in American life.

* The Rev. John C. Cusick, the director of young adult ministry in Chicago, spoke to the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, Calif., about the need to make the parish a place where young people can feel at home. He echoed Bishop Hubbard in stressing the crucial importance of the Sunday Eucharist. “Make Sunday the most unbelievable spiritual experience of the whole week.”

* Francis X. Cleary, S.J., of Saint Louis University, drawing on Luke’s Gospel, listed four marks of a vibrant parish: competent religious education, personal and community social concern, lively celebration of the Eucharist and prayer suffused with gratitude.

* Commenting in The National Catholic Reporter that we are a church of varieties and quirks, Tim Unsworth advocated spending more to educate sisters, the laity and brothers for leadership roles.


* On Good Friday, in observance of the seasons of Easter and Passover, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a feature article on good preaching. Five of the dozen or so selected preachers were Catholic priests. The diversity of their parishes and congregations seems to prove Bishop Hubbard’s thesis that renewal can take place anywhere. Three of the men mentioned work in desolate inner city parishes where daily life amid drug dealers and drive-by shootings is a challenge. Despite the dreary atmosphere of his neighborhood, one of these pastors is a distinguished poet, filled with optimism. Another “good preacher” leads one of the oldest parishes in the nation, with all the varieties and quirks mentioned by Mr. Unsworth. The formula there, worked out by successive pastors, is to welcome everyone, including the many people with AIDS who reside in the center city area, doctors from the two university hospitals, young professionals, sixth-generation residents–everyone. Preach from the heart and from a life of prayer. And the Sunday Eucharist is a splendid event.

The holy consensus on this crucial issue for the future of the church is so startling that even the secular press is beginning to notice the results.

>>> View more: Fighting back in Detroit

Fighting back in Detroit

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The tension began to rise in the Detroit courtroom of federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes on July 15. More than eighty workers, retirees, homeowners, and community residents submitted statements to the court decrying the draconian “plan of adjustment” ostensibly designed to provide an economic roadmap for exiting the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Kris Hamel, a Detroit homeowner and member of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions, and Utility Shutoffs, urged Judge Rhodes to halt the thousands of water shutoffs taking place per week.

Rhodes noted that the policy of mass termination of water services was indeed “bad for the bankruptcy.” And he added that the shutoffs have created adverse publicity for the city worldwide.

That was putting it mildly. Experts cited by the United Nations said the policy of large-scale terminations enacted by the emergency manager was a possible violation of human rights.

The struggle for water in Detroit is a struggle about human rights, democratic control, and a just economy.


Beginning in July of 2013, Detroit cut off water to more than 42,000 residents who were behind on their water bills.

One year later, Darryl Latimer, deputy director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, under the administrative control of the unelected emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, announced a fifteen-day suspension of the massive water shutoffs.

On July 29, Orr granted more power to the mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, to manage the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. This appeared to be another concession to protesters, but Duggan has indicated that he has no plans to turn people’s water back on. And when he was CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, he privatized it. He might do the same with the Water and Sewerage Department.

The weekly “Freedom Friday” demonstrations, modeled somewhat on the “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina, have been picketing the Water and Sewerage headquarters in downtown Detroit for more than two months.

On July 10, protesters blockaded the entrance to Homrich, the firm hired by the emergency manager to conduct the water shutoffs. Ten people were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Then, on July 18, thousands of people from Detroit and around the country gathered in the streets and marched through the financial district to denounce the water shutoffs and the privatization of the city.

The march took place in conjunction with the Net-roots National Conference, which was being held in downtown Detroit. Through the efforts of National Nurses United and the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, a broad spectrum of labor and community organizations endorsed the July 18 actions. These included the local affiliates of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Communication Workers of America, Detroit Metro AFL-CIO, the People’s Water Board, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, the Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee, Concerned Citizens and Retirees of Detroit, and UAW Local 600, among others.

National Nurses United declared a public health emergency in Detroit at the rally due to the water shutoffs.

One of the key slogans advanced by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and picked up by other organizations was “Make the Banks Pay!” This slogan grew out of the devastating impact of predatory lending in housing and municipal funding that has left the city in financial ruin.

Detroit has paid billions to banks for bad loans and termination fees. Many of the financial institutions now holding the city liable, such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Union Bank of Switzerland, and Barclays, have been cited for unscrupulous or illegal activities. Yet the emergency manager has failed to take legal action against these banks while forcing the termination of health care coverage and proposed pension cuts to more than 32,000 retirees and their families.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a former venture capitalist, looks at the municipal crisis as he would any financially distressed corporation he wanted to buy. He and Orr are not interested in preserving public institutions; they want to privatize them. This is the reasoning behind the attacks on the Detroit Public Lighting, Belle Isle Park, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, public pension funds, and health care programs for retirees.

Even before the banks looted Detroit, the city was suffering from a process of deindustrialization that began decades ago. To balance the budget on the backs of seniors, workers, and poor residents now cannot provide solutions to the crisis in Detroit. And all of these decisions are being made without any consideration of the popular will.

Nor will the city revitalize itself through more “prestige” projects such as stadiums, arenas, entertainment districts, and exclusive housing complexes where the rents and mortgage payments are far out of the range of the median income levels of the majority of the people who currently reside in the city. This approach has failed repeatedly over the last two decades to revive the city and its population.

During the 1990s, Detroit residents were encouraged to approve bond proposals for the construction of both Ford Field, home of the Lions football team, and Comerica Park, where the Tigers play their home baseball games. In addition to these monumental initiatives, voters approved the development of three casino hotels: Greektown, MotorCity, and MGM Grand.

However, the city continued to lose jobs and income. The wave of predatory mortgage lending during the late 1990s and the last decade drove 237,000 people from the city.

The much-trumpeted tax revenues from the casino hotels are now caught up in the bankruptcy proceeding, as Syncora Guarantee, Inc., a bond issuer, has laid claim to the revenue even before any of it is deposited in the city’s general fund.

In the July 20 edition of the Sunday Free Press, a macabre and utopian blueprint for an entertainment district between downtown and midtown was plastered on the front page as the lead story. Pushing the blueprint is multibillionaire Mike Ilitch, Sr., the owner of Comerica Park and Joe Louis Arena, the home of the Redwings hockey team. Ilitch has already gained rubber-stamped approval from the Detroit City Council to construct a new arena for a stated $650 million, while the city is in bankruptcy.


City tax dollars will be utilized for a substantial portion of the construction. The land was turned over to Ilitch Holdings for one dollar. There are no real guarantees that the hundreds of thousands of unemployed and underemployed Detroit residents will have any hope of good-paying jobs from this project.

The new blueprint is more of the same obsolete approach to urban development. It will only benefit the rich and drive even more working and poor people from the core of the central city and continue the decay of the outlying neighborhoods and local business districts.

What is actually needed in Detroit is the rebuilding of neighborhoods and the creations of tens of thousands of reliable and good-paying jobs.

This can be done only by taxing corporations and banks that are the root cause of the current crisis.

But the mayor and city council members are not advocating this. Under emergency management, the elected officials work at the pleasure of the emergency manager, who represents the interests of the corporations and banks.

An alliance of popular forces committed to decent employment, access to utilities and water services, quality housing and education, and the democratic governance of public institutions is at the core of the struggle for a livable future–not only in Detroit but across the United States.

Abayomi Azikiwe is editor of the Pan-African News Wire and a member of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition.

In the Feminist Fast Lane: A Profile of Loretta Ross

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If Loretta Ross did not exist, the Left would have to invent her. Fortunately, she is not a figment of the progressive imagination. This unapologetic black feminist and civil rights activist keeps on stepping on, despite adversity, and accomplishes the extraordinary.

Ross’s latest step is to act as national coordinator of the Atlanta-based SisterSong, an influential women’s collective that crusades for reproductive rights. The group consists of almost eighty grassroots groups representing women of color who are demanding total control of their bodies.

Ross was in Chi-Town in May to honcho SisterSong’s tenth anniversary celebration and a national conference entitled “Let’s Talk About Sex.” The confab drew more than 1,000 women and girls for an unprecedented pow-wow on topics like sexual violence, HIV/AIDS, and abortion. It was a tribute to Ross’s organizing skill.


“She is well loved, feared, and a truth teller,” says Beth Richie, a feminist activist and professor in African American Studies and associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Richie, who has known Ross for more than twenty-five years, adds: “She travels in the fast lane of feminist politics.”

Ross is running at warp speed to promote what she calls a “pro-sex agenda.” I catch up with her at a budget hotel room in suburban Chicago. This plus-sized woman warrior, who favors flowing African boubous, insists that females of color, from their teens to twilight years, get three things: the right to have a child, the right not to have a child, and the right to parent children–all on their terms.

“Young people have a human right to have a positive sexuality,” she says. “Meaning, yes, young people have the right to use birth control without parental consent, abortion without parental consent.”

Even girls at the tender ages of eleven, twelve, thirteen?

Ross laughs heartily, her long, abundant dreadlocks swaying down her back. “There’s something mind-boggling about telling a girl she’s old enough to be pregnant,” she says, “but not old enough to use birth control.”

H er early life was no laughing matter. Ross was born in 1953 in Temple, Texas, the sixth of eight children in a churchgoing family. Her mother, a domestic, hailed from a “hog-raising farm family” in central Texas. Her Jamaican-born father was a U.S. Army weapons specialist and drill sergeant.

Like most Army brats, she moved around. Ross excelled at the books, skipping two years in grade school. Then came her first sexual encounter, at age eleven. Ross was separated from her Girl Scout troop during an outing to a San Antonio amusement park. She remembers accepting a ride from a soldier who was stationed at a nearby Army base.

“He took me into the woods and raped me,” she says. She didn’t realize she should be afraid, she recalled, “until he was hitting me in my face.”

She puts a distance on the event. “I considered myself lucky, because, nowadays, if that had happened, there’d be a body on CSI in the woods. But back in ’64, he was not concerned about leaving a witness. He dropped me off on the street where I lived.”

Gripped with shock, guilt, and fear, she hid the incident from her parents with the help of her older sister.

At fourteen, she was abused again by her mother’s adult cousin. She got pregnant and gave birth to her only child, Howard Michael Ross. She decided to keep the baby. It cost Ross a ticket to Radcliffe College. The school withdrew its scholarship offer, she says. “In the ’60s, being pregnant was a lesser sin than keeping proof of the pregnancy,” she says.

She eventually moved with her son to Washington, D.C., and enrolled at Howard University, where her activism took off. In the early 1970s, she joined up with an early mentor, Nkenge Toure, a Black Panther and executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, the first of its kind in the United States. Ross began work at the center, and later took the helm in 1979.


After that, she did a stint directing Women of Color Programs for the National Organization for Women. From there, she went to the National Black Women’s Health Project, and then on to the Center for Democratic Renewal, where she took on the Klan, neo-Nazis, and anti-abortion groups.

While an organizer at SisterSong, she served as national co-director of the April 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., perhaps the largest women’s rights march in U.S. history. She also played a prominent role in helping to organize the U.S. Social Forum this June in Atlanta.

D espite her movement orientation, she does take an interest in mainstream Presidential politics.

“I’ll tell you the most contradictory thing a girl can do,” she says. “I’m sending Barack my money and giving Hillary my vote.”

“The Clinton power base is a centrist power base that fundamentally doesn’t appeal to my radical roots,” she acknowledges. With a wicked grin, she adds, “But, long ago, I accepted that no one as radical as me was ever going to be found dead in an electoral office.”

A t fifty-four, Ross calls her decades in the trenches a “therapeutic privilege.” Why is battling racism and sexism therapeutic? “Because everybody has to deal with it,” she explains. “I don’t know anybody who is exempt from the effects of male and white supremacy.”

Then with one of her trademark husky chuckles, she adds: “But a few of us actually get paid to do something about it.”

Illustration by Martha Rich

Laura S. Washington is a senior editor of In These Times, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, and a professor at DePaul University.