A Fierce Urgency of Now: Remembering the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

If You See Something, Say Something. This message on billboards, in airport terminals and on buses appears to be as well-branded today as Smokey the Bear’s mantra, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” was in my youth. We all want to feel safe, but the “fear” of some persons is endangering the lives of others.

Consider the following headline, currently circulating in the Black Press:  Florida Jury Awards $4 to Black Family. In St. Lucie, Florida a jury deliberated the case of a county deputy who fatally shot a Black father of three while he was listening to music in his garage. The incident began with a noise complaint by a mother picking up her child from a school across the street from the home of Gregory Hill Jr. For killing Hill and tear gassing the community, the jury awarded $1 to Hill’s mother for funeral expenses and $1 to each of his children for “loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and … mental pain and suffering.” The verdict later was reduced to $.04!

I am more than fed up with the killing of Black people on the streets, at traffic stops, on death row, in the womb or due to poverty. Yet, the distressed phone calls of “concerned citizens” reporting the presence of Black people in “white” spaces is, I believe, an old form of harassment. It is reminiscent of perceived threats and insults that have historically generated violent retaliation against the Black community – including riots and lynching. There seem to be no consequences for the caller and no repercussions for the killer.

martin-luther-king-682116-pixabayRev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put forward a “fierce urgency of now” more than 50 years ago. It resounds in the call for reparations today. Addressing reparations would interrupt the harassment trending in communities at this time. This is not an “eye for an eye” philosophy nor an equalizer for generational injustice. Petitioning for reparations has a scriptural and sacramental basis. Like the brief period of Reconstruction, there is a restorative value for the entire community.

Despite external differences, we are one human family. Right now, the spectacle on the border sense is a déjà vu experience for African Americans and American Indians whose children have historically been taken away to boarding schools or sold away. Even now, poor and vulnerable children miss out on “parental companionship, instruction . . . guidance” and protection. Until we make a serious effort to address injustices like this and make reparations to those who, throughout our history, have been denied dignity our human family will remain fractured.

Recently, I re-read Rev. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.  Generally, that iconic moment is viewed as a rallying cry for freedom, justice, and integration. However, did we forget the tangible, jobs component? Whereas the call for freedom and integration is subjective and aspirational, employment need not be elusive vapor.

Now is the time to suspend judgment about the unemployed and under-employed. Low employment for persons of color, individuals with disabilities, formerly incarcerated men and women, and poor whites is unacceptable in the United States. The income gap between average workers and the corporate elite and the wealth gap between racial groups is the rotten fruit of our present economic system. Prioritizing the Common Good would free up sufficient resources for all who need to earn a living. Many long for the dignity of work. People want jobs that pay a living wage and provide essential benefits so that they may care for their families. Countless individuals cobble together part-time jobs to afford basic needs and may still require further assistance.

As one human family, we must once again hear that urgent cry of Rev. King and work to address these societal injustices in our time. As we prepare to mark the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, here are 10 examples of innovative approaches to reparations to consider:

  1. Teach the history of all.
  2. Focus STEM initiatives on medical technology, infrastructure and ending hunger, rather than producing military systems.
  3. Establish community-based sites for learning about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
  4. Value work and workers, people over profits.
  5. Fairly compensate teachers, caretakers, people who clean the environment and beautify spaces where we live, work and play.
  6. Provide access to quality education and health care for all.
  7. End homelessness.
  8. Affirm that Black Lives indeed Matter.
  9. Honor the Sabbath.
  10. Strive to do better and be better. Don’t give up.

The message of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is relevant now more than ever. As we mark the anniversary of this historic call for justice and dignity for all our brothers and sisters, we are challenged to work for the transformation of systems and structures that prevent the flourishing of some members of our society.

Going Deeper:

Learn more about how we can work for justice in our communities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Racism page where you can find resources and tools to respond to the sin of racism.

Head Shot.Oct 2017

 

Donna Grimes is the Assistant Director of African American Affairs in the USCCB Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

 

Becoming One Church: Practical Steps for Multicultural Integration in Church Settings

As I wrote in the first post of this series exploring the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ resource Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM), “The Church is called to represent the communion of the Trinity, ‘to mirror that communion of Divine Persons in the way it welcomes and gathers all peoples – every tribe and tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9)’” (BICM, p. 4).  After exploring the new intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed in ministry in the previous modules, in this last post of the series, we will look at Module 5 of BICM, which offers practical advice and next steps.

Module 5, titled Foster Ecclesial Integration Rather Than Assimilation in Church Settings with a Spirituality of Hospitality, Reconciliation, and Mission, begins by describing the experiences of both parish leadership and the “newcomer” to the community as they go through the process of integration through the spiritual terms of encounter, conversion, communion, solidarity, and mission.  Often, in the early stages of this process “New immigrants feel discouraged by their difficult situation as foreigners in a foreign land; economic, family, and immigration issues; the Catholic parish’s doors remaining closed to them,” while, “parish leadership is obsessed with expecting new immigrants to just come through the door and fit in—speak English, assimilate, and ‘be like us’” (BICM, p. 27).

Maybe you have experienced similar feelings and challenges in your own parish or ministry.  I know I have.  In parishes that are becoming more diverse, I’ve heard those who have been members for a long time express a feeling of being a divided community because of the new culturally specific ministries emerging.  There is an assumption that once the “newcomer” becomes accustomed to the community there won’t be a need for ministry in different languages or focused on different cultural traditions.

In the BICM training, we were reminded that the Church has always called for integration rather than assimilation: “Through the policy of assimilation, new immigrants are forced to give up their language, culture, values, and traditions . . . By [ecclesial] integration we mean that all [cultural/ethnic communities] are to be welcomed to our church institutions at all levels. They are to be served in their language when possible, and their cultural values and religious traditions are to be respected. Beyond that, we must work toward mutual enrichment through interaction among all our cultures” (National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, no. 4).

That is not to say that integration is easy.  Module 5 describes a process of ecclesial integration that includes “four major thresholds: welcoming, Catholic identity, sense of belonging, and sense of ownership. Each threshold has movements or steps and requires certain communication competencies” (BICM, p. 30).    

In my own parish ministry, I often wished we could skip ahead in the process of integrating our culturally diverse parish.  After studying this process of integration, however, I learned to respect the stage that we were in and focus our pastoral planning on developing what we needed to move forward toward the next stage.  This helped me to recognize that the process we were undergoing was natural and that others had been there and successfully moved forward.

For example, instead of lamenting the fact that we didn’t have Hispanic leaders who were vocal on the parish council (which comes in the ownership stage), we focused our energy on building a sense of belonging and providing opportunities for formation.  After allowing the Hispanic community to develop a sense of belonging, I started to see glimpses of what is described as the later stages of integration: ″All members of the parish community, both well-established and new arrivals, are fully aware that they are called to take care of one another. From their separate stories and narratives, they begin to generate a common narrative that is centered in the grace of the Resurrection and our experience of reconciliation” (BICM, p. 28-29). There will always be room for improvement and there will always be people or groups of people within the parish at different stages of integration, but overall, I see our progress and growth as a community.

I hope this exploration of the Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers program has informed, inspired, and equipped you to “proclaim Christ’s message effectively among all nations” (BICM, p. 5).  May we all ″be willing to be a bridge-builder rather than a gate-keeper” (BICM, p. 32).

Going Deeper

For more information about how to assist your parish community with this process of multicultural ecclesial integration, and for pastoral planning strategies read Best Practices for Shared Parishes: So That They All May Be One.

Face

 

After working in Hispanic Ministry at the diocesan and parish levels in Western Kentucky for 14 years, Patti Gutiérrez now blogs about ministry and offers resources for Catholic ministries at http://www.patticc.com

Breaking Down Intercultural Barriers Through Encounter

My husband was working at a parish leading Hispanic Ministry and several times he would have people at the English masses ask him, “How’s ministry going with all those Mexicans?” Being raised in Mexico himself, he was bothered by all Hispanics being lumped together. Comments like these speak to an unfortunate lack of awareness of the diversity within the Hispanic community—and they also point to a deeper issue.

There are very real obstacles to intercultural integration in our parishes and ministries. In the previous posts in this series, we have explored diversity in the Church of the United States, dimensions of culture, and intercultural communications in ministry. Module 4 of Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers challenges us to take an honest look at the obstacles of prejudice, stereotypes, and racism. This module explains what was happening in the situation described above.  It is called in-group, out-group dynamics: “Those we do not know or trust and those who seem different from ourselves in whatever way (e.g. skin color, language, customs) constitute the ‘out-group.’  We judge these individuals by different standards than those we use for our own group” (BICM, p. 22).  Some of the common ways we judge the “other” are named in Module 4: generalizing, demonizing, colonizing (seeing them as children), trivializing differences, and making them invisible.

I have found that these dynamics are usually subtler than in my opening story, but they are very much present. I remember that when I first started meeting Latin American immigrants I was surprised at the level of prejudice they had towards other Latinos from different countries or socioeconomic levels. But if I take a moment to analyze my own tendencies, I can see these in-group, out-group dynamics at play inside of me as well. I can easily generalize about a group that I don’t know and yet see all sorts of differences within my “in-group.” I recognize a lot of differences even among European Americans from different socioeconomic realities or geographical areas I’ve lived in. Someone looking from the outside could simply see people with the same skin color, language, and cultural heritage and group us all together. After recognizing these dynamics at play, it’s easier to understand how unfair it is to lump all Hispanics into one generalization.

It is possible to make progress in overcoming these barriers of prejudice and racism. As Module 4 explains, it takes an intentional and counter-cultural approach that includes breaking the silence and denial that often surround the challenges of racism. One piece of the solution is addressing the racial anxiety described by Fr. Boniface Hardin, OSB: “Our racial anxiety arises from these three areas: fear, ignorance, and guilt—thus, the FIG Complex. Intercultural leaders are called to move beyond fear and anxiety as they lead the Body of Christ into the beloved community of the Fatherhood of God” (BICM, p. 24).

Another powerful way to overcome these obstacles is to encounter the “other.”  I have a friend who is an immigration lawyer and she has shared with me countless stories of U.S. citizens who come to her to find out how to “get papers” for their friend. The faceless, nameless “other” of the undocumented immigrant has now transformed into this faith-filled, hard-working, family friend named Juan. Of course, she has to break the news to them that Juan, like millions of others, has no line to stand in to apply for residency. The point, however, is that we are much less likely to fall into the traps of generalizing, demonizing, trivializing differences, treating the “other” as children or invisible if we have been intentional about spending time encountering people in the “out-group.”

In our parishes and ministries, it will take an intentional effort, starting with the leadership, to overcome our fear, ignorance, and guilt in order to recognize and confront our own prejudices. Only then will we, as people of faith, be able to begin the work to transform the systems and policies that have helped to sustain these in-group, out-group dynamics and historically made it more difficult for certain groups to succeed. By bringing these issues into the light and finding our voice to discuss and transform them together, we will be building up the Body of Christ, the one family of God.

Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB’s webpage on Racism for information on responding to the sin of racism and other helpful resources.

Face

Patti Gutiérrez, Diocese of Owensboro

After working in Hispanic Ministry at the diocesan and parish levels in Western Kentucky for 14 years, Patti Gutiérrez now blogs about ministry and offers resources for Catholic ministries at www.patticc.com

 

 

On 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination, praying for healing and grace

On this fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., join us in praying for healing and grace to reject the sin of racism in our hearts, communities, and structures.

Prayer to Address the Sin of Racism

We pray for healing to address
The persistent sin of racism
Which rejects the full humanity
Of some of your children,
And the talents and potential You have given.

We pray for the grace to recognize
The systems that do not support
The dignity of every person,
That do not promote respect
For those who are seen as other,
Who bear the legacy of centuries
Of discrimination, fear, and violence.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Flint, and all children,
Have access to clean water and health care.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Mississippi, and all children,
Have quality education that will allow them to develop their gifts.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Camden, and all children,
Have homes where families can live in dignity and security.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Chicago, and all children,
Can grow up without fear, without the sound of gunshots.
Lord of all, we ask you to hear and answer our prayers.
Give us eyes to see how the past
Has shaped the complex present,
And to perceive how we must create
A new way forward,
With a new sense of community
That embraces and celebrates
The rich diversity of all,
That helps us live out your call to reject
The sin of racism, the stain of hate,
And to seek a compassionate solidarity
Supported by Your grace and Your love.

We ask this through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.


Oración para abordar el pecado del racismo

Oramos para que la sanación aborde
El persistente pecado del racismo
Que rechaza la plena humanidad
De algunos de tus hijos,
Y los talentos y el potencial que les has dado.

Oramos por la gracia de reconocer
Los sistemas que no apoyan
La dignidad de cada persona,
Que no promueven el respeto
Por los que son vistos como otros,
Que soportan el legado de siglos
De discriminación, miedo y violencia.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Flint, y todos los niños,
Tengan acceso a agua potable y atención médica.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Mississippi, y todos los niños,
Tengan una educación de calidad que les permita desarrollar sus dones.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Camden, y todos los niños,
Tengan hogares donde las familias puedan vivir con dignidad y seguridad.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Chicago, y todos los niños,
Puedan crecer sin miedo, sin el sonido de disparos.

Señor de todos, te pedimos que escuches y respondas nuestras oraciones.
Danos ojos para ver cómo el pasado
Ha dado forma al presente complejo,
Y percibir cómo debemos crear
Un nuevo camino a seguir,
Con un nuevo sentido de comunidad
Que abarque y celebre
La rica diversidad de todos,
Que nos ayude a vivir tu llamado a rechazar
El pecado del racismo, la mancha del odio,
Y buscar una solidaridad compasiva
Apoyados por Tu gracia y Tu amor.

Te lo pedimos por Cristo, Nuestro Señor. Amén.

 

Copyright © 2018, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.  This text may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration for nonprofit educational use, provided such reprints are not sold and include this notice.

 

Going Deeper

This prayer, a new Prayer Service for Racial Healing in Our Land (also en Español) and other materials are available on the USCCB Racism webpage.

Praying for Racial Healing in Our Land

The following is adapted from A Prayer Service for Racial Healing in Our Land (also in Spanish), from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Perfect for Lent, this and other resources from the USCCB Racism page can help Catholics examine their consciences and pray and act in support of racial healing. 

“Racism has rightly been called America’s original sin. It remains a blot on our national life and continues to cause acts and attitudes of hatred, as recent events have made evident. The need to condemn, and combat, the demonic ideologies of white supremacy, neo-Nazism and racism has become especially urgent at this time. Our efforts must be constantly led and accompanied by prayer—but they must also include concrete action” (USCCB Executive Committee statement). People of faith call on the Divine Physician, Christ the Lord, to heal the wounds of racism throughout our land.

In Luke 10:25-37, the question is posed, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus is ready, answering with a parable. Jesus often used parables to shed light, bring new insights, and provoke a change in the hearts of listeners. We hear that someone is robbed, beaten and injured. Two walked by, ignoring the injured man, but a third came to the man’s aid, caring for his wounds and securing him safe lodging. He was the good neighbor. He was acting like Jesus, doing what God required.

Keeping this in mind, consider the scenario we are witnessing today as racism persists in our communities and in our churches. Too many walk by the victims of racism without looking deeply at their wounds or the pain inflicted on them. Many of these wounds have festered over centuries. Today’s continuing disparities in education, housing, employment, economic well-being, and leadership are not disconnected from our country’s shameful history of slavery and systemic racism. Any act of racism injures the perpetrator and the victim, threatening the dignity of both. The failure to act to end systemic racism, which is often animated in our laws, policies, and structures, hurts those who are victimized and denies all of us the opportunity to benefit from the gifts of diversity.

Jesus’ parable calls us to our obligations as Christians, to be a good neighbor: the one who stops and helps the injured; the one who does not hesitate to accept the responsibility of healing.

The signs of this time are asking us to wake up, to stand up and to speak up when we see racism. This is how we love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is how we act like Jesus. This is how we do justice and love goodness (Micah 6:8). This is how we make safe lodging for all.  This is how we begin the healing from racism in our land, writing a new parable of racial justice for this time.

Conscience is the “core and sanctuary” within us where we are alone with God and hear his call to “love good and avoid evil” and “do this, shun that” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 16).  We must exmine our conscience in light of the sin of racism, asking ourselves:

  1. Have I fully loved God and fully loved my neighbor as myself?
  2. Have I caused pain to others by my actions or my words that offended my brother or my sister?
  3. Have I done enough to inform myself about the sin of racism, its roots, and its historical and contemporary manifestations? Have I opened my heart to see how unequal access to economic opportunity, jobs, housing, and education on the basis of skin color, race, or ethnicity, has denied and continues to deny the equal dignity of others?
  4. Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?
  5. Have I ever witnessed an occasion when someone “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism and I did or said nothing, leaving the victim to address their pain alone?
  6. Have I ever witnessed an occasion when someone “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism with me inflicting the pain, acting opposite of love of God and love of neighbor?
  7. Have I ever lifted up and aided a person who “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism and paid a price for extending mercy to the other? How did I react? Did my faith grow? Am I willing to grow even more in faith through my actions?

We must recognize that racism manifests in our own individual thoughts, attitudes, actions, and inactions. It also manifests in social structures and unjust systems the perpetuate centuries of racial injustice. We must examine our individual actions and our participation in unjust structures, seek forgiveness and move towards reconciliation. We must pray together for the will and the strength to help contribute to the healing of racism in my time:

God of Heaven and Earth,
you created the one human family
and endowed each person with great dignity.

Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism.
Grant us your grace in eliminating this blight
from our hearts, our communities,
our social and civil institutions.

Fill our hearts with love for you and our neighbor
so that we may work with you
in healing our land from racial injustice.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

We have prayed and now, with changed hearts, let us move our feet to action.

Going Deeper:

For additional information, see the USCCB Backgrounder on Racism, the USCCB Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities: Report and Recommendations (2016) and U.S. Bishops Establish New Ad Hoc Committee on Racism (2017); the U.S. bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism, Brothers and Sisters to Us, and more resources at USCCB.org/Racism

Improving relationships between whites and people of color

“We’re bringing slavery back.” These words were told to a friend of mine’s 10-year-old son recently while at school in Indiana. He is black and faced taunts and harassment at school for several days. When his mom attempted to contact the teacher to address the issue she received no reply.

I myself have experienced such prejudice first-hand on many occasions. Several years ago a devoted Catholic woman whom I consider a part of my family discovered I was dating a black woman and told me “I’m not one of those KKK people but I think there are enough white women that you shouldn’t be dating [a black woman].”

As we look around our modern times we can clearly see that racism still exists in our society. Hate crimes are on the rise, white supremacy and white nationalism are coming back into the mainstream. An Associated Press survey, conducted in 2012 with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago, found that 51% of participants held explicitly racist views toward black people. A similar study was done in 2011 and 52% of those participants reported anti-Hispanic attitudes. Such prejudice was found across the partisan spectrum.

Archbishop Kurtz in 2015, then-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), spoke on the effects of racism in America: “A violent, sorrowful history of racial injustice, accompanied by a lack of educational, employment and housing opportunities, has destroyed communities and broken down families, especially those who live in distressed urban communities. Confronted by these realities, the familiar words of Blessed Pope Paul VI still resonate and continue to call us to action in our day: if you want peace, work for justice …The bishops called for decisive action to eradicate racism from society and considerable progress has been made since 1979. However, more must be done.”

We can see the reality of racial injustice and disparity that Archbishop Kurtz speaks of in our own state of Iowa.

The Iowa Data Center reports that the median income for black families was roughly half that of the general population of Iowa in 2014. The poverty rate in the black population is nearly three times that of Iowa’s population as a whole. And the unemployment rate for black citizens is three times that of the general population in Iowa.

These disparities are also prevalent in our criminal justice system. Throughout our nation data frequently shows that black citizens are more likely to be stopped and searched even though white citizens are often equally or even more likely to be in possession of illegal paraphernalia compared to black citizens. Black citizens are also more likely to be convicted and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as compared to white citizens.

According to the Sentencing Project, a non-partisan organization that studies racial disparities in incarceration and promotes restorative justice alternatives to prison, nearly 26% of Iowa prisoners are black while only 3% of the total state population is black. The state of Iowa is in the top five of highest incarceration disparity rates for black folk, with a rate more than 11 times that of whites. For Latinos the disparity is much smaller, though the incarceration rate is still almost double that of whites.

Despite these disparities, there are reasons to be hopeful for positive change. The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court remarked in his State of the Judiciary address in 2015 on the efforts by law enforcement, school officials, community members, and others to work with a restorative justice approach to help reduce this disparity and provide more support to those in need.

The Chief Justice noted: “Iowa may be a leader in the nation in the statistics showing racial disparities in its criminal justice system, but…Iowa can also lead the nation in finding solutions to end racial disparities.”

A shining example of the good work towards peace and justice in our own state is that Iowa was first in the nation to pass a “racial impact” law in 2007 that required any increase in penalties or creating new crimes be studied to see how such legislation could potentially impact people of color disproportionately compared to white citizens to help prevent racially motivated laws to be enacted. More still needs to be done.

In the face of these somber facts a task force was convened by the USCCB and chaired by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. His recent report to the November Assembly of U.S. bishops recommended that the faithful engage in prayer for peace in our communities, open channels of dialogue with communities affected by racism, and that the church “find its bold prophetic voice” among other things.

Dialogue asks of us to leave our own places of comfort where we dominate and reach out to others so that we may hear their stories and their experiences. This can be challenging when others’ experiences do not readily match up to our own personal perspectives or experiences, but this makes dialogue even more important especially if we are not the ones regularly receiving the insults, oppression, and hate of racism.

We can begin to engage in such a dialogue by reading books and experiencing art and culture by people of ethnic backgrounds different from our own, greet one another on the street with smiles and charitable “hellos”, engage in conversation with others from various backgrounds, contact organizations that serve predominantly people of color and ask if you can make a visit and hear their stories, and speak out when you encounter racism in your own life. These are just a few ways for us to engage in building peace and nurturing relationships with our neighbors.

Our Catholic faith also has a vast treasure to be discovered in the lives of saints from across the globe. There are more saints of the African continent than the entire continent of North America. Several American saints, or those in the process toward sainthood, have African, Native American, Latino and Pacific heritage. Discover these holy men and women like Venerable Pierre Touassaint, St. Kateri Tekawitha and Servant of God Thea Bowman, to name a few. Pray for their intercession that there may be greater peace in our communities, stronger bonds of solidarity between peoples, and pray for the strength and courage to evaluate our own lives to discover how we can more readily participate in bringing about greater peace in our communities.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Learn about how parishes in one part of the country are engaging in dialogue through Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action). Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for helpful resources like “A Guide to Dialogue on Difficult Issues” and “Encouraging Civil Dialogue.”

Engaging in a ‘racial examination of conscience’

“Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, the Church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and its own structures. Our concern over racism follows, as well, from our strong commitment to evangelization…We would betray our commitment to evangelize ourselves and our society were we not to strongly voice our condemnation of attitudes and practices so contrary to the Gospel.”

—‘Brothers and Sisters to Us, USCCB’

In light of the need for our society to heal from the sin of racism, I want to offer a simple “racial examination of conscience” to help each of us reflect on how we may grow as persons and children of God in our hospitality, love, and mercy for all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race or religion.

This “racial examination of conscience” is not intended to implicate anyone as a racist. It is not a “test” to see how racist you are or are not. It is offered in all charity and humility as an opportunity to reflect on our daily lives and how we may be unaware of the impact that our everyday decisions have on ourselves, members of our community, nation, and world. Just as an examination of conscience before going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not intended to demean or shame anyone, neither is this particular examination of conscience. When we approach the confessional it is through our honesty and our sorrow that we are offered mercy from God and help to restore not only our personal relationship with God, but to offer restoration to a world we have harmed through our actions, even those of which we are unware. Research shows that many of us act towards others based on implicit, or unknown, bias. Most of us believe in the equality of all people and assume that such a belief is enough. There are many studies done regarding implicit bias, one such study by researchers at Northwestern University show clear findings that implicit bias does shape how we act towards others especially when it comes to our perception of others as threats. This type of research shows us that even those of us who believe all people are truly equal, other factors, especially those unknown to us, can lead us to act in a way that does not truly reflect our personal beliefs. This list of questions is not exhaustive but may be a good start in discovering our biases in ourselves, bring them to the light, and then work to correct them so that our actions mirror our personal beliefs.

  • Do I interact with people who are different from me outside of work or school?
  • Do I read books or stories written by people of different ethnic or religious heritage than myself?
  • Have I taken the time to listen to the voices of others who don’t look like me or have a different background and life experience than me?
  • If in a supervisor role, have I included people of various cultural or ethnic backgrounds when developing professional guidelines and/or dress codes?
  • Have I ever said the following phrases or something similar: “she’s pretty for a black girl” or “he’d be handsome if he wasn’t so dark” or “that little girl would be cute if her mom did her hair” or other such judgments on beauty and acceptance?
  • Have I ever asked someone about their heritage or ethnicity by asking “so, what are you?”?
  • Have I ever seen someone on the street and made a judgement based on how they dress, how their hair is styled, how they walk, how they speak?
  • Have I ever participated in or laughed at jokes or comments that belittle or denigrate people who don’t look like me or practice a different faith than me?
  • Do I blame the victims who suffer poverty and/or oppression for their plight?
  • Do I try to come up with excuses for things I do or say that are perceived as racist or harmful by others?
  • Do I dismiss the concerns or observations of others as simply being “overly sensitive” or being “PC”?
  • Do I ask someone that I am an acquaintance with in social or professional settings to speak for their entire culture?
  • Do I use a friend or family member who is of a different background than my own to “prove” that I have said or done nothing wrong?
  • Have I ever said “I’m not racist, but…”?
  • Do I always speak to others from different backgrounds with respectful tone and language?
  • Do I automatically associate negative attributes to an entire group of people?
  • Do I use dehumanizing language about others, referring to people as “thugs, animals, illegals,” etc.?
  • Do I categorize other ethnicities into groups like “good” and “troublesome”?
  • When trying to show a broad ethnic representation for my community or institution, do I randomly place minorities in advertisements? Do I ask for input on how advertisements may be perceived outside of my own culture?
  • Do I take the time to learn and listen to the stories of others’ lives in order to better understand them and the challenges they may face that I do not?
  • Do I see Jesus Christ in each and every person I encounter every single time? Do I love each and every person regardless of their heritage, the choices they have made, their status in society, or the perception I may have of them?

Once you finish praying and reflecting upon these questions I invite you to read “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” a document by the US Catholic Bishops on our relationship with migrants and refugees in our midst.

Let us all seek peace and harmony in our communities and see each and every of our brothers and sisters as Jesus Christ in our midst. And let us pray to the saints to guide us and our nation towards healing.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.


Going Deeper!

Visit the USCCB Racism page for the U.S. Catholic bishops examination of conscience on racism and other materials to help you work for racial justice.

Father Cyprian Davis and Racism in America

 “[The country] has yet to solve the question of race; that has been America’s tragic flaw. We have never really come to grips with race. We went through the civil-rights movement, but here we are in 1993 with young people who never knew racial segregation, never knew the civil-rights movement, and all of a sudden on college campuses you have a tremendous amount of racism. There’s still an awful separation between people. It isn’t only against blacks. It involves Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Not that other countries don’t have the same problem. The Church for a long time did not take a stand. It has started to.”

  • U.S. Catholic Magazine quoting Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB

Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis, pictured in a 2009 photo. (CNS photo/St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology)

Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB was my professor, mentor, and spiritual director. He was a Benedictine monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey whose passion was his monastic vows and his faith in Jesus Christ. He was also a Black Catholic, staunchly proud of his African American heritage. Fr. Cyprian was ordained a priest when Black American priests were few in number.

I fondly remember sitting in his classes and hanging on his every word. He was a storyteller. His voice had gravel in it, his stance was slightly bent over, and his eyes lit up as he recalled stories of the past. He also had a wonderful humor that brought those stories to life in a way that few can. I always imagined that around a campfire he would be king for no one could match his ability to speak of things that happened hundreds and even thousands of years ago as if they were modern day events. He literally put you as a bystander into those stories.

His detailed history of Black Catholicism is the seminal work on how truly diverse our faith is, and how our Catholic faith has never been nor will it ever be a “European” religion. Holding a doctorate in history, he wanted to study the Church Fathers but upon returning to the United States and the country in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement he realized that his contribution to the movement was to highlight the gift that black folks had offered to the Church and the nation. But he was not simply a bookworm. He was a man of action. He marched in Selma across the Edmund Pettis bridge and was one of many who faced down state and local law enforcement in the fight for equal rights. He personally placed himself in the midst of violence against an unjust system to demand he and all people of this country be treated as equals, to have his and others’ dignity recognized.

In addition to being a student, I had the blessing to have him as a spiritual director. There is an intimacy that comes with a spiritual director, a fraternal bond that allows not only the spiritual director to see into the heart of the directee but for the the directee to see deeper than the casual interaction between professor and student. It required me to humbly open myself up to his wisdom and guidance and to listen. I will always remember his voice the day he called me “friend”; I felt unworthy of the honor.

I trusted him and saw a prophet before me on religious, political, and social issues of today, particularly those connected to racism in America. Over the last couple years after I graduated from Saint Meinrad his health began to decline and so it was difficult to keep contact with him before he entered eternity in 2015. I have wondered over the past couple years since the protests in Ferguson, NYC, Chicago, Minneapolis, and elsewhere what he would have had to say about the Black Lives Matter movement and the challenge our nation faces with the racial division that never went away but was only masked over the course of the 5 decades since the Civil Rights Act. I know he would be disheartened by the injustices in our system but not surprised by what is transpiring in our nation. He would also offer hopefulness. This man who faced down the segregationists alongside Dr. King in Selma confronted the violence and knew that things can be better. As he taught about historical and contemporary prejudice and racism in society I never heard bitterness, only a passion to effect change. He challenged us all to examine how we may be contributing to injustice and how we may find our path to helping overcome it. He offered that challenge to dig deeper into resources and histories of America and of the Church. It was Fr. Cyprian’s way of giving voice to the stories often left untold in a culture dominated by a “whites only” voices.

As Catholics the Sacrament of Reconciliation is where we not only confess our sins, but discern how we may grow from our personal shortcomings and place ourselves at the mercy and love of God to help us learn from our sins. In the examination of conscience that we do to prepare for confession we open ourselves up to discern ways in which we may not be living up to the call of the Gospel and that examination helps us to discover things to work on for our own betterment of which we may not even be aware. In the spirit of Fr. Cyprian and his compassionate but challenging expectation for Catholics to address the sin of racism, in my next post we will have a “racial examination of conscience” to help us all become more aware of how we may grow in understanding and compassion for one another.

In the meantime, please consider reading the US Bishops’ document “Brothers and Sisters to US” which can be found online at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/cultural-diversity/african-american/brothers-and-sisters-to-us.cfm

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Faith communities around the country are praying and acting for racial justice. For ideas, watch this Google hangout on racial justice that highlighted several examples.

A Response to Charlottesville

Community members in Charlottesville, Va., hold a vigil for Heather Heyer Aug. 16. She was killed Aug. 12 during a white supremacist protest over a plan to remove the statue of a Confederate general from a city park. (CNS photo/Kate Bellows, The Cavalier Daily via Reuters)

In August, Neo-Nazis, fascists, Klansmen, white supremacists, neo-confederates, and other hate groups converged on the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, and in their wake left one young woman dead and many others bleeding and critically injured. Their message of hate and acts of violence and terrorism instilled fear in many thousands more. Our Catholic faith and our local church, the Archdiocese of Dubuque condemns such violence and such ideology as it is intrinsically evil. It is sinful and has no place in our world. As Scripture tells us: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” (1 John 3:15)

Since then I have heard comments of shock and disbelief that, here in 2017, this is actually happening. “I thought we were past this.” “This is not who we are.” “I can’t believe this.” I have yet to hear or read any of those same statements from my friends who are black, brown, migrants, Muslim, or from other marginalized groups. That is because they are daily reminded that they are in the demographic minority and they are regularly subjected to this kind of hate and violence. So, I have not heard shock from them. I have heard their sadness, fear, anger, frustration, and hopelessness, but not shock.

How did we get to this point? Many are trying to understand the answers to this question. For people on the receiving end of hatred and violence this is only a continuation of what they have collectively experienced since the very beginning of our country: slavery, the slaughter and transfer of native peoples to reservations, Black Codes, the Chinese Exclusionary Act, Jim Crow, the “Southern Strategy,” segregated housing, mass incarceration,  the myth of the “welfare queen”, an inhumane immigration system, patently false claims of widespread voter fraud by “the other,” and so on. We find symbols and messages in movies, television, newspapers, magazines and on social media that only deepen this pit of prejudice and injustice and spread false narratives about various peoples. All of these things have us swimming in messages that reinforce bias and at the same time keeps us physically apart from sharing community with people who are do not share our same background or experiences.

“And while they were eating, he said, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord?’ ” Matthew 26: 21-22

While we know that Judas is known as the betrayer we also know that all of the other apostles would betray Jesus, save John, by the end of the following day. Those who fell asleep at Gethsemane betrayed Jesus. Peter betrayed Jesus three times before the cock crowed. And the others remained absent from his presence during his passion and crucifixion for fear of what would happen to them.

However, unlike the other apostles, the women and John bore the threats and violence in the difficult task of supporting Jesus in his darkest hour. Are we like the apostles who immediately look to shift blame or free ourselves of any responsibility for the institutions and the culture that we are living? I am not innocent in this regard. We protest, “Surely, it is not I, Lord!”, because we do not hold explicit prejudice towards others but if we are to overcome the racial hatred and violence in our country we must look to the women and John as our example. We often lack the courage and conviction, myself included, to take a moment to reflect introspectively on how we may, even in tiny ways, contribute to the injustice or oppression of others for we are not only responsible for “what I have done” but also “what I have failed to do.”  When our words or actions are challenged related to racial injustice how quickly are we to reply “Surely, it is not I, Lord!” Do we take the hard task to ask ourselves and Christ, “Is it I, Lord? How may I better serve you and your people?”

It is essential that we not only openly reject and denounce racism but actively work to counter it. We must repudiate racist actions and speech, including racially charged “harmless jokes.” We must learn to recognize symbols and messages that reinforce explicit and implicit bias. We must open ourselves to hearing the stories and experiences of those who share a different background than our own. We must listen to the messages of those who have been on the receiving end of oppression and injustice. These conversations are not easy but they are necessary.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.


Going Deeper!

Find practical resources to address racial and work for racial justice here. Access bishops’ statements, prayer resource, learning materials, and more on the USCCB Racism page.

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.