Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Bringing New Life to The New Evangelization

I took a walk through Bushwick to view some of the street art that has been rapidly filling up the walls of the factories and local business. I’m talking legitimate art, not illegal graffiti.

You can stroll along Wilson or Willoughby Ave. or you can walk down Bogart or Ten Eyck Street. The murals that have been spray painted on the exteriors of the buildings are very evident. They are expressive, colorful and magnificent.

Bushwick has become a haven for artists, some of whom have gained considerable fame. The young people are very visible as the area has become more and more gentrified. Coffee shops and tony restaurants have opened and seem to bring a booming business. Art galleries are appearing in what used to be warehouses and garages. It’s very much like what has happened to the Northside of Williamsburg.

There’s a palpable energy on these streets in Bushwick, with ideas being expressed and statements being made with almost every step you take. I didn’t understand everything I looked at, and I certainly didn’t agree with some of the sentiments being expressed. But there’s no getting around the fact that these are the feelings of a large segment of our young people and they cannot be ignored.

So what did I see? Some of the work, although artistically very well done, made no sense to me. There was a portrait of a man with a square box as his head riding on the back of an iguana in the desert. There was a man with a halo on his head and a bandana over his mouth, holding the scales of a fish in his hand. He had a bull’s eye target on his shirt. It was beyond me, but I’m thinking it was meaningful to someone.

There were lots of beautiful women and struggling youngsters portrayed and a poignant depiction of an older woman entitled “Depths of Loneliness.” And there was a young man putting a headlock on and wrestling with the Statue of Liberty.

There was very little religiosity in the work, although I did find two sidewalk depictions of a Christ figure with the words “Pay to Pray.” One showed a stake through the hand of Jesus; the other showed dollar signs in the halo around the head.

Bushwick, and Williamsburg for that matter, are filled with Catholic churches. Many are remnants of the ethnic parishes that once well served these neighborhoods. The Italian and Irish enclaves gave way to the Spanish-speaking, many of whom are being driven out by rising rents that are more affordable to these young artists rather than struggling immigrant families.

Most of these young people are not finding their ways into our churches. On the day that I visited, I stopped at St. Brigid’s Church for 9 a.m. Mass which was being attended by about 40 elderly Hispanics. The young Italian priest was speaking, in English and Spanish, about the heroic martyrdom of St. Laurence, whose feast day it was.

It was a homily that the young people of Bushwick were not hearing because they were not there. The challenge of our Church is to find new ways to reach these burgeoning communities that are springing up among us, and to tap into the creativity and energy that the new residents bring. It will not happen with the same models of parish life that have served us well in the past. It will demand experimentation and creativity to what Pope Francis means when he urges us to go out to the periphery to preach the Good News.

To the credit of the diocese, it has begun several new initiatives to bring the Light of the Gospel message to those with the eyes that are willing to see and the ears that are willing to hear them. We’ll be telling you more about them in the months to come as we report on new ways to bring life to the New Evangelization in Brooklyn and Queens.