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To achieve unity, church must embrace diversity, says theologian

  • Written by Dave Fidlin, Special to your Catholic Herald
  • Category: Local

3---ButlerAfter celebrating Mass for participants at the National Association of Catholic Chaplains national conference on Monday, May 23, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki anoints the sick. The conference, “Pathways to Healing: People and Communities” held in Milwaukee, May 21-24 drew nearly 550 participants. (Submitted photo by Thomas J. Butler, courtesy National Association of Catholic Chaplains)MILWAUKEE — To achieve a genuine sense of unity within the Catholic Church, parishioners throughout the country need to embrace diversity and put aside prejudices, according to Fr. Bryan Massingale.

An associate professor of theology at Marquette University and a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Fr. Massingale was one of four plenary speakers at the National Association of Catholic Chaplains’ 2011 conference, May 21 to 24 in downtown Milwaukee. Fr. Massingale rounded out the conference, speaking on the topic, “Pathways to Healing: Communities.”

Fr. Massingale said globalization has caused good and bad reactions within church. He called on attendees to reach out to people of all walks of life and ethnicities at their parishes, and to prayerfully remember those struggling in other corners of the world.

“In our church, globalization is a mixed blessing,” he said. “There’s more diversity, and yet we’re more divided. We’re a broken, divided world, nation and church.”

His talk, lasting more than an hour, was at times poignant and revealing. He confessed struggles about the current state of the church, but wrapped his message with a hopeful, faith-filled response to the chaplains.

As a person living a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, Fr. Massingale said he is guilty at times of forgetting the plight of people trying to meet even their most basic of needs.

“I don’t have any difficulty eating, and all of my basic needs are met,” Fr. Massingale said. “It becomes all too easy to forget the rest of the world, and some of America, cannot live as well as I do.”

Fr. Massingale also confessed that, at times, he struggles with a deep sense of disappointment with the church.

“Why should I work to heal a community in which I feel so estranged? I wrestle being part of a church that sometimes is unable to proclaim or preach the justice it professes,” Fr. Massingale said to thunderous applause from the audience. “It is painfully obvious that people are sometimes welcome only with conditions.”

Throughout his time as a professor, Fr. Massingale said he has met with openly gay and lesbian students and has listened to their struggles.

“They see the church as more of an enemy than an ally,” Fr. Massingale said.

Fr. Massingale said he also strains to remain hopeful, at times, when the plights of parishioners within the church are so vast and great.

“At times, I feel all that I can do is cry at the pervasiveness in this world,” he said. “There are people who are very depressed and deeply in despair. There’s a great sense of woundedness and brokenness. It weighs me down.”

Despite the disappointment and heartache, Fr. Massingale said he remains staunchly committed to the Catholic church – as well as his faith and love for Jesus.

“I love the church,” he said. “It’s why I became a priest.”

During last week’s plenary talk, Fr. Massingale said he wrote three drafts of his conclusion, which sounded a hopeful call to action to the people attending the conference.

“Social division in our world, in our nation and in our church can’t be solely dealt with through analysis and rational planning,” Fr. Massingale said. “We can’t do it with just our left brain.”

The solution, Fr. Massingale said, is to look to the Scriptures and witness what Jesus did during his time on earth.

“God raised (Jesus) out of compassion; He was moved to compassion,” Fr. Massingale said. “I have come to believe compassion is a decisive Christian attitude.”

Fr. Massingale said the practice of lamentation – the passionate, outward expression of grief recounted throughout the Old and New Testaments – is another means of addressing the plight of the world and church through a faithful response.

“If we’re going to be agents of healing, we must practice lamentation,” Fr. Massingale said. “When I think about the social healing needed in places like Afghanistan and Libya, I’m deeply moved. I can no longer turn away.”   

The other plenary speakers at the four-day conference, which drew nearly 500 participants, were Christina Puchalski, founder and executive director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health in Washington, D.C.; Marjorie Ryerson, executive director of Water Music in Randolph, Vt.; and Robert Wicks, professor of pastoral counseling at Loyola University, Maryland.

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