Monday, May 17, 2010

Archdiocese Of Milwaukee Shuns Efforts By Hispanic Catholic Priest To Provide After Hours Spiritual Support

Father Eleazar Perez-Rodriguez to give farewell during Unity In Diversity Festival on May 28th at the Wisconsin State Fair Park

By H. Nelson Goodson
May 17, 2010

Milwaukee - The Archdiocese of Milwaukee seems to be losing its grip on providing spiritual support for those in need during off peak hours. The founder of Spirit Mission, Father Eleazar Perez-Rodriguez, 50, originally from the State of Chihuahua in Mexico is being shunned by the archdiocese for his innovative approach to serve the Catholic Latino community through an after hours spiritual-religious support resource center.
Father Perez-Rodriguez will leave on June 2 to his newly assigned church in Las Cruces in New Mexico. He will be working with Las Cruces Diocese, and with the approval of the Archdiocese of Chihuahua-Madero. He decided to move on after serving almost ten years with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The lack of support by the diocese for his Spirit Mission led to his decision to move to New Mexico. Perez-Rodriguez said, he will return to Milwaukee every first week of the month to assure Spirit Mission will continue to provide services as intended. He will most likely start another Spirit Mission in Las Cruces with the support of the Archdiocese in New Mexico, according to Father Perez-Rodriguez.
On Monday, Father Perez-Rodriguez confirmed that he had met with Archbishop Jerome Listecki two months ago and had explained the goals of Spirit Mission and the off peak hours of support it was providing the South side community.
Unfortunately, Listecki failed to value the innovative approach by Father Perez-Rodriguez and Spirit Mission. Listecki seems to lack information about the spiritual needs of the Latino community in Milwaukee. Listecki could not be reached for comment, but the Archdiocese of Milwaukee spokesperson said, Catholic churches in Milwaukee are growing, but the church doesn't have the personnel to keep the churches open late at night or during the weekends. In this case, Perez-Rodriguez was advocating for the archdiocese to support Spirit Mission who would take up the needed after hours spiritual needs for the Milwaukee area churches, which Archbishop Listecki and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee decided not to invest in Spirit Mission's model.
Catholic Latinos have been leaving the church to other religions that offer hospitality and feel they can reach a priest when an emergency arises late at night or on the weekends. Another reason, the recent scandal of numerous child abuse and sexual violation cases against Catholic priests who remained on the order and the cover-up by the Vatican and especially the Pope.
Father Perez-Rodriguez began his innovative model at St. Adalbert Church, 1923 W. Becher St. by keeping the church opened from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and making himself available to the parishioners at times when other priests weren't available. Priests had maintained and continue to have certain hours of service and schedules that conflict with the spiritual needs of the South side Latino community.
Perez-Rodriguez innovative and humble approach was instrumental in the attendence growth of parishioners at St. Adalbert Church. The church almost closed, at the beginning it only had about 80 parishioners and after Perez-Rodriguez left the church it had over 8,000 followers. Since Perez-Rodriguez left St. Adalbert last October, the church attendance has dwindle and parishioners have joined other Christian faiths that offer after hours spiritual needs and a hospitality atmosphere.
Father Perez-Rodriguez had to work in five parishes in order to get his salary from the archdiocese. He was instrumental in generating more than $300,000 dollars for renovations of St. Adalbert's Church property, basement and roof.
Perez-Rodriguez said, in Mexico the church rectory provides a hospitality atmosphere where parishioners feel they are welcome and are the integral part of the success of the church. In contrary, Milwaukee priests have schedules and an appointment is needed to see them. A religous custom the archdiocese and Listecki are reluctant to change.
In an emergency, it becomes very difficult to contact a priest, because an answering machine at the rectory gets the call after 5:00 p.m. Listecki continues to follow protocol and hasn't made an effort to provide support through the archdiocese for Spirit Mission as former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan did, according to Perez-Rodriguez. 
On December 15, 2008, Dolan received a set of documents and proposal of the model plan for Spirit Mission. The documents provided actual proof the model plan had worked and had parishioner support. Even, Dolan supported the plan, but left the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to become the Archbishop of New York City.
In October 2009, Perez-Rodriguez left the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and St. Adalbert Church to continue his quest to provide an atmosphere of peace, information, and prayer regardless of creed, according to the mission statement. Spirit Mission Inc. was established in 2007 to provide spritual spirit 24 hours a day- 7 days a week by volunteers and Father Perez-Rodriguez. Today, the mission is kept opened from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. due to lack of funding. However, volunteers who cook and maintain the mission are present during the morning and afternoon, Father Perez-Rodriguez says.
On May 28, 29, and 30th, Spirit Mission located at 1629 S. 21st St., will hold its 2nd Annual Unity In Diversity Festival at the Wisconsin State Fair Park, 640 S. 84th St. in West Allis, Wisconsin. On Friday at the Budweiser Pavilion, Spirit Mission will host a farewell ceremony for Father Perez-Rodriguez at 6:00 p.m.
Today, people can get a complimentry breakfast in the morning during the week and on Saturday's. The food and money donations received are for operating costs.
If the festival is successful, and generates funds it will take steps to buy the building on S. 21st Street, festival organizers say. 

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