Racial Justice and Peacebuilding: A Perspective from the Joy of the Gospel

headshot of Fr. John Crossin

Fr. John W. Crossin, OSFS

As the U.S. bishops undertake the work of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, I want to reflect on Pope Francis’ teachings in Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si’ on building peace, which may be applied to the pursuit of racial justice.

First, we must value the importance of relationships. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis states “Everything is related and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth” (92). Indeed, this interconnectedness is important when considering the need for racial justice.

Next, we cannot overstate the importance of social dialogue and its contribution to peace. The dignity of the human person and pursuit of the common good are more important than the contentment of a minority who are well-off. In Evangelii Guadium, Pope Francis writes, “In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence.” Patient and ‘arduous’ efforts are needed to achieve a “peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter” (218-220).

Pope Francis offers “four specific principles which can guide the development of life in society and the building of a people where differences are harmonized within a shared pursuit.” He goes on to say: “I do so out of the conviction that their application can be a genuine path to peace within each nation and in the entire world” (221).

Those four principles are:

1.) Time is greater than space.  In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes, “Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present; trying to possess all the spaces of power and self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back.” If time governs space, people seek to develop processes in society that engage people and groups and that lead to significant events. Such processes make for full human existence (222-24).

2.) Unity is greater than conflict. It is best to face conflict ‘head on.’ Here one opts for “a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.” This is unity that comes from the Holy Spirit who can harmonize every diversity. Of course, this involves a process of discernment where the views of all are valued and thoroughly considered. This can lead to a “reconciled diversity” within a society or culture or between churches (Evangelii Gaudium 226-30).

3.) Realities are greater than ideas. It is dangerous to dwell solely in the realms of images, rhetoric, concepts and ideas. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis states “Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action.” This principle calls for actions toward justice and charity in imitation of the saints (231-33).

4.) The whole is greater than its parts. While sinking our roots deeply in our native place, we also must keep the bigger picture, the greater good, in mind. “[E]ven people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked.” Pope Francis’ model here is not the sphere but the polyhedron “which reflects the convergence of all of its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 234-37).

Fr. John W. Crossin, OSFS is the former Director of the USCCB Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. He is a member of the Peacebuilding Working Group of the Dialogue between the World Council of Churches and the Vatican.


Going Deeper

Many parishes around the country are putting Pope Francis’ words into action.  At usccb.org/racism, you can find helpful resources such as Prayer of the Faithful suggestions on racism, and stories of how communities are working for racial justice, such as St. Louis parishes hosting sacred conversations on race (+ action)  and a Dallas parish’s work to improve police-community relations.

 

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and Racism

Consideration of racism is grounded in fundamental scriptural beliefs: equal dignity of all people, created in God’s image; and Christ’s redemption of all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells this out:

The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”

Moral judgments on racism, based on equality, are consistent: “any theory or form whatsoever of racism and racial discrimination is morally unacceptable” (Compendium); and “racism is not merely one sin among many, it is a radical evil dividing the human family…” (Brothers and Sisters to Us).

Jesus tells the Good Samaritan story— one of his three “great parables” —to answer “Who is my neighbor?” His response addresses entrenched divisions between Jew and Samaritan and sets the stage for the unity of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5; Deus Caritas Est). This unity admits “no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex…” (Lumen Gentium).

The Many Faces of Racism

Catholic teaching “emphasizes not only the individual conscience, but also the political, legal, and economic structures…” (Economic Justice for All). Racism is about people and about group behaviors and societal organization. Individual racism includes conscious acts, spontaneous attitudes, “the tendency to stereotype and marginalize,” indifference, and “the triumph of private concern over public responsibility…” (Brothers and Sisters to Us).

Laws such as U.S. segregation or South Africa’s apartheid represent blatant systemic racism (The Church and Racism). More subtle racism treats groups as “second-class citizens with regard, for instance, to higher education, to housing, to employment and especially to public… services…” (The Church and Racism). Even more subtle racism is now masked in appeals to equality that guarantee that past inequalities are perpetuated by blocking corrective efforts. (Brothers and Sisters to Us). “At times protestations claiming that all persons should be treated equally reflect the desire to maintain a status quo that favors one race and social group at the expense of the poor and non-white” (Brothers and Sisters to Us). Social, economic, educational, and political advantages from the past are cemented as the often-unconscious privilege of the present. Thus, “Racism obscures the evils of the past and denies the burdens” that history imposes on people of color today (Brothers and Sisters to Us).

Saint Pope John Paul II maintained a fourfold personal responsibility for social evils:

… the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world; and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of a higher order. (Reconciliation and Penance)

Thus we can be involved in societal racism as: 1) supporters or exploiters; 2) accessories through complicity or indifference; 3) accessories through fatalistic acceptance; and 4) accessories through consecration of the status quo.

Responses to Racism

Personally, we are called to conversion—to respect the rights, dignity, equality, and sanctity of racially different individuals and groups. “This does not mean erasing cultural differences,” but “…a positive appreciation of the complementary diversity of peoples” (The Church and Racism) and the distinct contributions of racial minorities to “the internal strength of our nation” (Brothers and Sisters to Us).

Moreover, the tradition emphasizes “respect for foreigners, acceptance of dialogue, sharing, mutual aid, and collaboration with other ethnic groups.” (The Church and Racism)

Systemically, we must unmask social evil and, like prophets, denounce injustice. We must eradicate overt and covert racism. This requires solidarity with those suffering from disadvantages woven into society and our self-perceptions. For John Paul II, this solidarity is “not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people…On the contrary it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good…”(Sollicitudo Rei Socialis).

Our interdependence globally implies a moral responsibility for human development; this, Pope Benedict writes, “depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side”(Caritas in Veritate). For those who benefit from the express and hidden advantages of racial inequities—still continuing—the church urges honesty about the past and present so that everyone’s future will be different. “An honest look at the past makes plain the need for restitution wherever possible— makes evident the justice of restoration and redistribution.” (Brothers and Sisters to Us).

Fr. Fred Kammer, SJ, JD is Director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.

 This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the JustSouth Quarterly website.


Going Deeper

At USCCB.org/racism, read U.S. bishops’ statements, access resources and tools, and learn how faith communities are working for racial justice. At WeAreSaltandLight.org, find out how your faith community can welcome and celebrate diversity, and form and nurture diverse leadership.

Stand Up and Speak Out: Racism is a Sin

DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB is the Director of Life, Charity, and Justice for the Diocese of Austin

The tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia have revealed again the prevalence of racism in the United States. Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. bishops spoke out against discrimination and enforced segregation in the 1968 document “National Race Crisis,” in which the bishops called for us to eradicate racism from society.

In the 1950s and 1960s, various branches of the federal government wrestled with laws and policies restricting equal protection. Some bishops found themselves fighting the architects of division, racism, and separation. We are fighting these battles today.

Undoubtedly, this is a very uncomfortable topic for people in our pews. However, “Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father” (Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979). Many of us remained quiet and on the sidelines of issues that affect the whole family of faith.

Catholics pride ourselves on being intrinsically pro-life. During the 1999 Apostolic Visit of Saint Pope John Paul II in Saint Louis, when challenging us to be unconditionally pro-life, the Holy Father directed us “to put an end to every form of racism.” Being intrinsically pro-life means that that we must always stand up for the uncomfortable “right and just” as opposed to merely remaining silent in the face of the inherently “wrong.” The eradication of racism from our society is also what it means to be pro-life.

Considering the entrenched divisions between the Jewish and Samaritan communities, Jesus outlined very clearly in the Good Samaritan parable our responsibility to others. We know very well that “every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Gaudium et Spes, 29). We have to stand up, speak out and work towards the unity that Saint Paul speaks of, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

Every day of my life, I look at my black face in the mirror. At the youthful age of 40, I know very well that African Americans among others have not made it over. Regardless of our ethnicity, we must recognize the certain reality that every day is a process of continual, ongoing conversion. The anthem of the Civil Rights movement remains our objective: to overcome some day. Bigotry, violence, and racism should never be tolerated.

So, as we praise God for another day, we should also recall the words of Jesus to “Treat others as we would have them treat us.” (Matthew 7:12) For Christ to increase, we must stand up to be witnesses to the saving power of God. We will overcome prejudice, racism, intolerance, and bias when we stand up and speak out. If you disagree with the politics of hate, it is time to say so. Let not your silence be construed as tacit approval. Life seen as self-centered earthly existence and lived in denial of Christ ends in destruction.

DeKarlos Blackmon is the Secretariat Director of Life, Charity and Justice of the Diocese of Austin. He is the Past Supreme Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver, and the President of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights.

Going Deeper

On September 9, join Catholics around the country for a Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities. Visit the USCCB Racism page for prayer and action resources to use on this Day and beyond.

Reflections for the Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities (Sept. 9)

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

We as Christians know that we are called to “love our neighbor as our self.” If we want peace we must work for justice – and peace does justice. The way of the world is to seek and hold on to power, to dominate the “other.” The racial strife we are now experiencing is about superiority. One group has made another group a threat to its privileged status. One group is in fear of the other. This otherness can be culturally, class, or racially based. No matter. If power is not used for the good of those under that power, peace cannot follow. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Power, if it is justly administered, must be done out of love. So love is the answer. If we are to have peace in our communities, we Catholics must be among those who are engaged in the struggle. “How?” you may ask. First and foremost, we must live our lives as though we believe in the Gospel. We must love one another as Christ loves us; love all of our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of our station in life, our race, our culture, or our religion. We must work with ministries and agencies which promote the equality of and equal opportunities for human beings. Be part of the solution. Be an “accepting” person. We live in a very culturally diverse society. We must accept this new reality. Intolerance is a learned behavior. It is learned at a young age. So, it is important that our efforts begin early on. Scripture is full of teaching on the merits of loving one’s neighbor. As the faithful, we should lead the way, by example.

There are programs which teach us how to develop this quality. Recent studies have shown that acceptance education is most effective between the ages of four and nine years of age, and several programs have been developed to help educators teach students how to relate to others from different backgrounds and cultures. One such pilot project Mix It Up at Lunch Day by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, which has begun in elementary, middle, high schools, and colleges nationwide. It encourages students to identify, question, and go beyond the restrictions of social boundaries.

For adults in ministry, ordained and lay, there are opportunities to obtain the skills to minister in a tolerant and loving manner to the diverse people of God. The Catholic bishops have developed programs which fall into the category of living out our call to embrace the other and make them our brother and sister. The Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers program teaches from the Catholic perspective the skills which are essential to bringing about peace and doing justice to all.

That is what our Lord has commanded of us: to “love one another as I have loved you.” These programs and many more can assist us in living out our lives as witnesses to Christ, the Prince of Peace and the author of justice for the entire world. We can be part of the solution.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.


Going Deeper

Join faith communities around the United States to celebrate the Sept. 9 Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.

Visit the USCCB webpage on Racism for a prayer card, Prayer of the Faithful, study  materials, and real stories of how faith communities are working for peace and racial justice.  You can also participate in the Sept. 14 YouTube Live event on Racial Justice.

Great is Our Faithfulness: Why Celebrate Black History Month

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Why do we celebrate Black History month? What does it mean to us as black Catholics?

Black people have experienced the faith in the context of enslavement, civil war, Jim Crow, separate and un-equal, the civil rights movement, and the post civil rights movement era. All the while, we for the most part have stayed true to our Catholic faith and to the stated beliefs of the United States of America. Our leaders, well known or not, have held on to the belief in the notion of the American experiment in equality of persons.

St. Pope John Paul II while addressing 1,800 African American Catholics in New Orleans on Sept. 12, 1987, encouraged African American Catholics to contribute the gift of who they are to the wider Church. That is good citizenship in the tradition of Catholic social teaching.

From the first, we hoped that there was a place for us here as members of the Church and society. We had to invent and re-invent ourselves many times over the years and we did. We believed what we read or had read to us from sacred Scripture, that Jesus came to save ALL God’s children. We kept that notion always as an anchor of our lives. Even in the dark days of enslavement, we had the kind of sustaining faith that allowed us to survive even the racism inside the Church and within the hearts of our white brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom owned us as property. Even in these worst of conditions, black people “knew” that community is the foundation of the soul of all people especially for us. We have always worked to make things better for ourselves and our children. There are no areas of endeavor that have not benefited from our participation.

There are examples of brave black people who distinguished themselves in the secular society, like Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first African American to reach the rank of General Officer in the United States Military; Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress; and Sidney Poitier, the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best actor. These are some who help us to celebrate our achievements as good and productive citizens of this country.

We, black Catholics, can also be proud of others who lived up to not only the social creed of this nation but also to the spiritual creed as well. This includes people such as Daniel Rudd, a black Catholic layman, activist, journalist, and publisher of the American Catholic Tribune “the only Catholic journal owned and published by colored men.” He also founded the Lay Catholic Congress movement. We recall Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first identified African American man to be ordained a priest for service in the United States. He had to go to Rome for his formation because no U.S. seminary would admit him. He persevered and braved discrimination inside as well as outside the church. He believed in and lived a life that considered all people as creations of God and are, therefore, good. He is an inspiration for all.  We also recall Mother Mary Lange, OSP who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious community for women of African descent.  She also founded a school that educated immigrant and enslaved children in Baltimore, Maryland when it was still illegal to educate black children. That school became St. Frances Academy, which is still in operation today as a co-ed High School.

These are just a few of the reasons we black Catholics should celebrate this month.

We are part of the heritage of this country. Our faithfulness in the belief that all men are created equal is a testament to our faithful citizenship. And, that is something to celebrate.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.  

Our Diversity Is Our Strength

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

When I was director of the Office of Black Catholics I was often asked these questions: “Why do we need an Office of Black Catholics? Doesn’t that promote division among us?”

These questions indicate the need to acknowledge that diversity is a part of who we are as a community. This outreach is not an indication of our divisions as much as it is an indication of the beauty of our diversity.

We need look no further than Scripture to see the place of diversity in the church. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds us of who we are as members of the body of Christ: “As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one spirit” (1Cor. 12:12-13). St. Paul’s message resonates for us today as we face the new reality of the church as being diverse within its unity.

Recognizing and addressing the need to have leadership reflect the face of the faithful has at times been a slow process. Our diversity is our strength and our beauty. We are a “patchwork quilt” of many pieces and each piece brings with it its own beauty that should not be lost within the overall quilt.

The message found in the New Testament is that we are all one in Christ, that we are our brothers’ keepers, and that God shows us how to be one with our brothers and sisters, as He became one of us. We, as followers of the Lord, must do all we can to mirror the life of Christ, we in leadership positions all the more. I call this “empathic leadership.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has reminded us that the shepherds must take on the smell of the sheep. By that, I believe that he also means that the shepherds should also look like the sheep.

As I look around me, today, I do not see a clergy and religious that reflect the reality of our present demographics. In this age of the New Evangelization, it is very important that the actions of the Church match the words of the Church. If the New Evangelization is to be a new beginning, then those who lead must be culturally, racially, and ethnically representative of the faithful. How can this be done?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is involved in a number of efforts to help.  For many years, I have served on the planning committee for the Diversity Outreach Initiative (DOI) at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. The goal of DOI is to develop leaders from diverse Catholic communities for ministry in the Church.  The initiative expresses our commitment to strengthen the Church’s social ministry by reaching out to Catholic ethnic, racial, and disability communities and encouraging members to lift up the richness and diversity of their gifts in our shared mission.

The USCCB has also adopted several priorities to assist ministers in the recognition of cultural diversity as a reality in the Church today and how it can be lived on a day-to-day basis. The USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church has taken up this challenge and created a way to begin to address ministry to the faithful in a more useful way. The result is the “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers” (BICM) program. The aim of BICM is to foster sensitivity to the various cultural, spiritual and worldviews that all who minister in the church will encounter in the “vineyard of the Lord.” The committee has identified six cultural “families” to be ministered to in the United States: African Americans, Native Americans, Asia and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos, migrants/refugees/travelers, as well European Americans. Ministering with sensitivity to the culture of those we encounter is one way to start to reclaim and to reactivate the missionary call, which is the very core of the life of the church.

If we are to grow the church in the “fields” we wish to evangelize, we need to actively grow the leaders from among those we evangelize. This means that our seminaries must be actively seeking vocations from men who come from those who make up the faithful in our area. We cannot just invite them, we must go out and “make disciples”. Our diocesan offices must be populated by people who look like the faithful. We must be all things to all people.

The church must embrace our diversity as strength and not as a weakness. We must thank God for the wonder of the diversity of his creation and use it as he intended, so that all may be one and share his love with all.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.  


Learn more about building unity in diversity and developing diverse leaders at We are Salt and Light, a project of Justice, Peace and Human Development/USCCB.

50th Anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act

Sr. Joanna Okereke photo

Sr. Joanna Okereke

October 3, 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which made changes to U.S. immigration policies that helped bring about a beautiful, multi-cultural society in the United States that can be celebrated with honor, pride and great satisfaction, not only to new immigrants but to all the members of the local church. Prior to this important Act, U.S. immigration policy gave preference to northern and western European immigrants and excluded Asians and Africans.

Today, the United States is blessed with the presence of many people from various cultural backgrounds and languages.

Many parishes have committed themselves to welcoming these immigrants by engaging in special evangelization for and with immigrants, such as encouraging, catechizing, and celebrating liturgies in their native languages.

Meanwhile, others organize different inter-cultural activities. Many archdioceses/dioceses have developed structures which encourage and support local Churches to respond to the pastoral needs of these diverse communities, thereby manifesting the universality of the Catholic Church in its richness in positive ways.

In their pastoral letter Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, the U.S. Catholic bishops write, “The Church of the twenty-first century will be, as it has always been, a Church of many cultures, languages, and traditions, yet simultaneously One, as God is One — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” We must acknowledge that, despite our different cultures, genders, religions, languages, and ethnicities, human persons – men and women – are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

The liturgical life of a parish must encourage active participation by immigrants as members of the faith community. The faith community into which the immigrants are received is enriched with their spiritual gifts, deep cultural values, and wealth of faith traditions.

In welcoming immigrants, the Church has always contemplated Christ, drawing inspiration from His words “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt. 25:35). It is important that languages, cultural values, and the religious traditions of these diverse communities be respected. It is important to protect and honor the dignity of every human person.

Conscious of the need for unity in the Catholic Church which is visible, alive and active among all peoples, cultures and languages throughout the world, I join my supplications with the prayers of Jesus, “May all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21).

As we relate with the immigrants and strangers in our midst, let our lives, animated by Christian faith and love, reflect the mind and heart of Jesus who, Himself as a baby, was a stranger in Egypt. He said “He who welcomes you welcomes me.” (Mt.10:40).

As the U.S. Catholic bishops said, “The Church must, therefore, welcome all persons regardless of race, culture, language, and nationality with joy, charity, and hope” (Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope).

 

Sr. Joanna Okereke is Assistant Director for Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers in the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


For resources on celebrating and fostering cultural diversity in the Church, visit the webpage of the USCCB Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church and the Diversity and Leadership Development sections of WeAreSaltAndLight.org.