Gerry Martins lives near Brillion with his wife and four children where they attend Holy Family Parish. Gerry and his family are originally from India and came to the diocese as missionaries in December 2017.
There’s this tendency within our communities to have interactions with people we are familiar with. And anybody who we don’t know, we tend to avoid. I don’t know that this has anything to do with color. Even as we travel across the diocese, we’ve noticed that same trend. It’s challenging because at churches of other denominations, people will come and seek you out. They want to know who you are and where you’re from. They want to make you feel welcome. I think that is something for us as Catholic-Christians to consider in terms of evangelization. Are we making people feel welcome as the Body of Christ?
Although through leading Alpha and being involved in different ministries, people have gotten to know us and we are seeing some change, when we first came to Wisconsin, we experienced some of that indifference. However, when we spoke to the parish as a family, and explained a bit about who we are and why we’re here, that seemed to help.
At the parish level, we have met people who are very welcoming, and they want to experience diversity, and learn more about our culture, about us, and about the global Catholic Church. We see this also in other places within the diocese, and even ecumenically.
I haven’t experienced open racism in the church since I’ve been in the diocese. It seems to be more subtle. It’s not where someone has come to me proactively and said my family and I shouldn’t be here, but it’s almost like a glass wall. At times, we seem to encounter challenges that give a feeling that we’re not supposed to be here, but no one openly says it. Sometimes I feel like I have to prove myself more than other people might have to. I wonder if there are extra hurdles that we face as a family. As outsiders, we tend to face extra scrutiny. To some degree, that’s natural. Back home we could get things done because we knew the system, but here that is more of a challenge as there seems to be a corporate mentality that pervades the church making it rigid and structured in the guise of efficiency. This stifles the movement and action of the Holy Spirit.
I think we need to talk about these issues so they aren’t perpetuated. The enemy loves to have things under the surface. He wants it hidden because if it doesn’t come to the surface, it will always be that way. A lot of people don’t realize that they are even carrying or perpetuating patterns of behavior. It’s just always been that way and people never really thought about it. Unless we think into these things or are made aware of it, nobody’s going to change it.
My message to the community would be to go back to what Jesus said – we need to love God and love our neighbor. Stemming from that, we as a diocese really need to go beyond our immediate cliques and be welcoming of everyone. So many people are hurting within our communities today, regardless of color. Are we really reaching them? Are we being Jesus to the person in the pew, on the seat next to us? Or do I have my blinders on and it’s all just about me? Do I just go to church to mark it off my checklist and then I’m on my way?
If we are not making people feel welcome, they will not come back into our churches again. If we’re not doing what Jesus asked us to do, then we, as a church, are slowly disintegrating.