Sowers of Change, Protagonists for Social Justice, and Bold Leaders of Action

Attendees cheer a statement about justice for immigrants Feb. 16 during a the opening program of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Midway through the U.S. Regional Meeting of World Popular Movements in Modesto, California, a strong wind came up which almost blew off the metal protections of the roof of the beautiful new gym where we were meeting at Central Catholic High School.

The force and the noise of the wind reflected the force and noise of the gathering of over 700 inter faith delegates of community organizations from around the United States, with some international representation also. The force was a powerful wind of strong voices calling for the popular movements to be sowers of change, protagonists for social justice, and bold leaders of action in bringing down the walls that divide the struggles against the systems that Pope Francis mentioned in his letter of greeting to the gathering.  The Pope wrote about being confronted by “a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., listens to a speaker Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. His diocese hosted the event. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Many voices then spoke from diverse perspectives but shared the urgency of being one people in one fight (one ‘witness’ as Cardinal Peter Turkson called it) “to rebuild society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives, and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.”  The noise was that of great enthusiasm for “disrupting oppression and dehumanization” as Bishop Robert McElroy, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and others spoke about and “rebuilding” systems that promote and protect justice in ownership of land, for working people, in housing, for immigrants, and in ending racism. One might wonder why the meeting was held in Modesto, California, and not some large city easily reachable by modern modes of transportation. The answer simply is that the planners felt that the great Central Valley in California provided a location that reflected the challenges being faced all over the country.

The Central Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world but struggles with issues of water, clean air, higher unemployment, lower wages, thousands of annual migrant farm workers, large percentages of immigrant peoples, human trafficking, homelessness, and a host of other social issues including violent gangs, hunger, school drop outs, etc.   But at the same time there are so many who live in the Central Valley who want to make life better for all who live and work there. The Regional Meeting received a warm welcome and recognition by those who knew about its purpose. What made this meeting different from other church or community gatherings?

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, poses for a photo Feb. 16 with Lira DeMoraes, a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Project in Massachussetts at the start of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.

It was the first time in the United States that community organizers from across the land were invited by the Church to come together so that the Church might hear from the people experiencing exclusion, dehumanization, and the pain of poverty.  Pope Francis had previously convened three World Meetings of Popular Movements. He spoke at all three about overcoming the globalization of indifference by “placing the economy at the service of peoples; working for peace and justice; and defending Mother Earth.” To this regional gathering in the United States the Pope sent a written greeting wishing that the “constructive energy” of this meeting “would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals…that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.” The Holy Father acknowledged with gratitude the sponsors of this gathering: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development; the host bishops from the three dioceses in the Central Valley; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and expressed his support of the popular movements.  What was different was that Catholic dioceses hosted and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of USCCB sponsored the meeting, which was organized and run by the popular movements under the leadership of the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network and other organizing networks. Pope Francis highlighted PICO’s work for promoting this meeting.

Although representatives of the Churches did speak and were well received, the Church leaders, including over 20 Catholic bishops, were there to listen and to accompany participants in the dialogues.  The message from the delegates at the end of the meeting was addressed to the popular movements and leaders in the United States and globally and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis. The message quoted Pope Francis and Catholic bishops extensively but also laid out the challenge, urging “our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people.” The message quoted Cardinal Tobin in his video address to the gathering that “faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid.” Pope Francis was indeed the inspiration for this gathering. Cardinal Turkson, by his presence and in his words, gave strong witness for the Church’s commitment to the integral development of the human person. Every human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and full human development gives glory to God.

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 Going Deeper

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides ongoing support for community groups that work to transform their communities. Visit our map to find out where this work is happening where you live—then get involved!

Bishop Blaire of Stockton Issues Strong Statement on Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States.  Many have friends and family members who are without papers; many are without papers themselves; children in school are being bullied; and young immigrants who signed up for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation; racism has raised its ugly head in many communities; and so many of our neighborhoods and homes are plagued with violence. Many who have jobs often find themselves having to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet.

To all of you this day I remind you that OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE COMES TO MEET YOU TO LEAD YOU TO JESUS.  She says to each of you what she said to St. Juan Diego: “Do not be disturbed in your heart; do not be afraid.  Am I not with you, I who am your mother?” We need to hear these words of comfort and strength when there is so much hostility in the public conversation about immigration and immigrants.

I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you.  You are the Church.  I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets. Please God, things will go better than our worst fears about what might happen.  Regardless, the Church is with you.  I am here to accompany you.  I also wish to announce to our immigrants, to our refugees, to our migrants, from wherever you come, that we will do everything we can to help you through our Catholic Charities and the community organizations of which we are a part. As Catholics we embrace our American traditions of welcome, of unity in diversity, and our care for all.

I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our inter-faith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way. The way of God is the way of love.

As you know so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East have been slaughtered by ISIS or lost their homes in war torn areas and have suffered as refugees from their ancient lands.  I ask you to join with our Holy Father Pope Francis, in doing whatever you can in any way to support the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christian and Muslim refugees at this time, and to bring calm to their homelands.

The causes of war and cruelty cannot be ignored.  The injustices that give rise to radical evils must be alleviated. The forces of evil must be stopped. Ultimately, evil will only be overcome by good, by the hard work of good people working together to bring about peace.  And there will be no peace if there is no justice which respects the dignity and worth of every human being.  As long as the gods of money and power and unrestrained impulses found in the idols of greed and corruption rule on the face of the earth there will be no lasting peace.  Sad to say, an even greater threat to peace that looms over our heads would be the unrestrained advance in nuclear weapons which could destroy all creation.

I sincerely believe that unless God is accepted as sovereign Lord over the earth and over our lives, communities will continue to deteriorate, the earth will be devastated, and family coherence will be diminished.  Your devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe keeps us close to her as our Mother.  She leads us to Christ Who is the all just One; the all merciful One; the Hope for the world when all seems hopeless.

The world does not need any more walls.  It needs bridges of compassion and mutual understanding.  Yes, proper respect for borders or boundaries, but not barriers of hostility and division.  Let there be peace at our borders.

The world cannot continue to endure more violence.  It needs restraint, words of peace and perseverance in the hard efforts to create the just structures that are the foundation for peace.  In our community the answer to gang violence is good education and decent jobs.

The world must not tolerate racism.   It needs to honor the diversity of God’s human family by building a unity which embraces and respects all races on the face of the earth.  Unity in diversity!

bishop-blaire-5x7Today we venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe who comes to meet us as our mother.  Nuestra Señora will show us the way to peace and goodness and justice.  Mary is the mother of all peoples.  She will give us the courage not to be afraid.  She will lead us to Jesus, the Lord of peace and justice.   Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!  Viva Cristo Rey!

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 

Celebrating a Victory for Racial Justice

cheryl-sommer

Cheryl Sommer

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes: “[Business] can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (no.129).  Francis echoes our longstanding Catholic social teaching tradition which urges all of us, including those responsible for creating jobs, to seek the common good and promote human dignity.

In Metro-East St. Louis, people of color found themselves dealing with another longstanding practice, that of often being shut out of good job opportunities including those in the construction trades. Years of racial bias, exclusionary practices of both businesses and unions, as well as other individual actions combined to create an unjust system preventing people of color in the region from having access to employment.

Faith communities that serve low-income populations see the impact of this unjust system firsthand. Reflecting on the congregation’s charitable efforts, one pastor commented, “These people don’t want to be given coats. They want a good paying job to buy their own coats!”

This is where United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM), an interfaith group consisting of Catholic Churches and other congregations which addresses unjust systems in the region, comes in. With funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the support of Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton, UCM has been training Catholics and non-Catholics alike to change unfair employment systems.

UCM found hope in the announcement of the building of a new Catholic hospital in the area.  Catholic leaders in UCM believed that a Catholic institution would want to use the construction of its new hospital as an opportunity to open the construction trades to people of color. Hospital leadership initially pledged to work with UCM on this. For reasons not completely understood, it didn’t happen. UCM learned that the hospital had a minority hiring goal of just 8% in a region with a minority population near 40%.

Knowing of Bishop Braxton’s strong support of their work through CCHD and of his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States, UCM approached him for help. Bishop Braxton called an immediate meeting with hospital leadership, UCM, and Bruce Holland, the general contractor for construction.  Holland was himself a Catholic. Braxton firmly stated that a Catholic hospital should do better in breaking down systems of exclusion in construction jobs.  He instructed everyone to continue meeting to improve the situation.

Holland, a long-time respected business leader, opened up his office for the meetings, which were tense due to the fact that construction contracts had already been signed.  It seemed evident that there were only going to be about 8% people of color working on the hospital construction. But with Bishop Braxton’s constant encouragement and the willingness of everyone to stay at the table, understanding began to be reached. Holland was moved to offer his help to mentor fledgling non-white businesses in finding success in the construction industry.

On September 1, Holland hosted a reception at his office which was attended by 32 minority business representatives and other people of color who wanted job opportunities.  Relationships were built and minority business owners were given tips for successfully bidding for construction jobs.  Contractors were given specific people who would follow-up with them for ongoing assistance.  Some were given a promise of work very soon.

A system of exclusion from jobs for people of color still exists.  However, because of Catholics who support CCHD, the unwavering encouragement of Bishop Braxton, the tenacity of men and women who want to work, and a Catholic business owner who stepped forward with his expertise and influence to mentor others, a system of inclusion is one step closer.

Cheryl Sommer lives in the Diocese of Belleville and has worked in parish religious education for over 30 years. Cheryl is a long-time volunteer with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and with United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM).

Going Deeper

Reflect on racial justice with Bishop Edward K. Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, IL, in his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States.

Visit the USCCB Racism page to discern how your faith community can work for racial justice.

A Public Witness for Peace in Our Community

 

ray-kelly1

Ray Kelly

It was already 90 degrees at 9:00 am on this Saturday morning, not the ideal day for a clean-up effort. The forecast was for a heat index of 115 that afternoon. None-the-less, we were on a mission and we had a job to do. I am the Co-Director of a community advocacy group in West Baltimore called the No Boundaries Coalition. We work to break down the boundaries of race, class and neighborhood within the eight diverse neighborhoods that surround Baltimore’s (in)famous Pennsylvania Avenue.

Our coalition came about when, after serving in just about every ministry in my parish since birth, St. Peter Claver/Pius V Catholic Church in the Sandtown/Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore, I realized that while the work we were doing in faith formation, evangelization, and youth outreach was important, it wasn’t necessarily bringing faith into dialogue with the root causes of issues that face our community. And, no one really believed in themselves; our community had lost hope.
nbc-intersection
Since then, St. Peter Claver/Pius V and the No Boundaries Coalition have worked to break down boundaries and build hope. After the riots which occurred after Freddie Gray’s death, we conducted a listening campaign because in the midst of the media attention, our residents didn’t feel heard or felt forgotten. We also created the West Baltimore commUNITY Commission to document instances of police misconduct and published a report that was later used by the Department of Justice in their investigation into policing in Baltimore. Recognizing that one reason our voices weren’t being heard was because of low voter turn-out, we launched a Get out the Vote effort, which we called “Double Up 21217”—which ended up recording the highest voter turnout in the history of polling place 015-018 (Gilmore Elementary School) in Sandtown/Winchester. At the same time, the Archdiocese of Baltimore created the Racial Justice Circle, which facilitated an open conversation about white privilege and systemic oppression. The parishes involved became some of our biggest supporters and volunteers and still are to this day.

nbc-greeningWhich leads us back to our clean-up effort on a too-hot day in July. By eleven thirty, the heat index was 100 degrees, and we had been through 160 trash bags, but our volunteers, social action team members, and Archdiocese Racial Justice Circle participants were working hard. We were out together, with brooms, shovels, trimmers and mowers, being “visible” and proving we are capable of changing things for the better. When our work was finally complete, we partied together like it was a family reunion. There was music, dancing and so much love in laughter, as we picnicked in a park that a few years ago was surrounded by vacant houses, and near corners that are usually overrun with drug activity. We felt proud that this was our home.

The by-product of all of these efforts is the re-introduction of hope in a community that gave it up decades ago. Once again, the power of God is igniting the power within our hearts and our community.

Ray Kelly is Co-Director of No Boundaries Coalition, in West Baltimore, and a life-long member of St. Peter Claver/Pius V Catholic Church.

Going Deeper
Learn more about efforts for peace in West Baltimore, including the work of St. Peter Claver/Pius V with No Boundaries Coalition, and Bishop Madden’s peace walks. Watch this recorded YouTube Live event about how three faith communities, including St. Peter Claver/Pius V, in West Baltimore, are taking action.

Visit the USCCB Racism page to find out more about how communities of faith can work together for peace and racial justice.

 

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.

5 Ways You Can Cultivate Peace and Work for Racial Justice

USCCB president, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, recently announced a Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities, to be celebrated in faith communities across the country on September 9.

In interviewing numerous faith communities in preparation for this day about their responses to violence, racial tensions, and systemic racism, we have encountered amazing stories of deep faith, persevering hope, and effective action to build peace and counter racism.

nbc1In West Baltimore, St. Peter Claver Catholic Church was on the front lines in responding to unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray. Parishioners continue to build on efforts begun four years ago to address neighborhood safety and improve community-police relations. They also participate in Bishop Madden’s prayer walks in neighborhoods plagued by violence.

In Ferguson, MO, parishioners at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta are engaging a “Lean In” listening process across cultures and raising awareness about racial issues. Children at the parish school study saints of various cultures to reflect on how they can imitate these heroes by engaging in efforts for dialogue and peace. All around St. Louis, MO, parishes are joining with congregations of other denominations so that people of faith can have Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action), which challenge participants to encounter one another and discuss the uncomfortable topic of racism.

In Dallas, TX, Holy Trinity Catholic Church is working with other faith groups to improve police-community relations and work on racial and economic justice. Because of the interfaith group members’ long work to build relationships with law enforcement, Holy Trinity and others were prepared to respond immediately when the recent shooting of police offices occurred. They now seek to address problems with housing, healthcare access, and payday lending that are connected to racial disparity.

Other stories of hope abound—in Minneapolis, New Orleans, Savannah, Springfield, and countless other cities.

If you feel as inspired by these stories as we do, then take that as a sign of encouragement from the Holy Spirit to discern how your own community might be called to respond.

Here’s how you can get started.

  1. Pray Together. Use these prayers from the USCCB during Eucharistic celebrations. Gather to pray and reflect. Many faith communities are using the bishops’ letters on Brothers and Sisters to Us and What We’ve Seen and What We’ve Heard, as well as Bishop Braxton’s The Racial Divide, as starting points for reflection and discussion. You can access all of these on the USCCB racism page as well as a video, other reflections materials, and more. The WeAreSaltAndLight.org diversity and racial justice page also contains some excellent resources for reflection.
  2. Reach Out Together. Create intentional opportunities for members of your faith community to listen to the stories and experiences of people of ethnicities, languages, and cultures different from their own. This resource on Building Relationships, Creating a Culture of Encounter through One-to-Ones can help guide your efforts for encounter. Another fantastic resource for facilitating encounter between different ethnic groups within a faith community is PICO’s Year of Encounter with Pope Francis program.
  3. Bring what you’ve learned through reaching out to pray and reflect on the hard questions. Gather with other representatives, including decision makers, in your faith community and ask the hard questions: Does the leadership of our institution reflect the diversity of those we serve? Are the many faces of the diverse body of Christ represented in decision-making processes? How are we inviting and forming leaders? Who is missing around the table? In our worship together, and in activities of our community, do we cultivate welcome, hospitality, and participation for people of all cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds? How do we invite our members to reflect about and understand racism? Privilege? The dignity of all people? Whose untold story do we need to listen to? Are we preaching on, and praying together about, these difficult issues? How are we currently working to change perspectives and address the causes of racism?
  4. Learn Together. Make an effort to learn more about racial disparities and the causes of racial tension. Learn about the historical struggle for racial justice in the United States and some of the challenges that remain. In recent years, there has been ample media coverage on disparities in education, housing, employment, the justice system, and other areas. Use the Process for Group Discernment to draw from your experiences of prayer, reflection, encounter, and study to discern what action the Holy Spirit might be calling you to take as a community.
  5. Act Together. Some of the faith communities highlighted above chose to reach across faith traditions, joining ecumenical and interfaith efforts to work together on racial and economic justice. You can discover what efforts might already be happening in your community at the PovertyUSA.org website. Other communities felt called to commit to practical changes in the ways they practice hospitality, cultivate leaders, and celebrate cultural traditions. Others are just beginning, but are engaging in important encounter and dialogue that can lay the groundwork for future efforts.

What is the Holy Spirit calling you to do, together with your family, neighborhood, parish, school, or other faith community? What will be your first step?

The Sluggish Pursuit of Racial Justice

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

The U.S. Bishops said it back in 1979 with “Brothers And Sisters to Us.”  Their words continue to have a powerful impact in the Catholic community:

“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.  Racism is a sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race … it mocks the words of Jesus, ‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you.’”

Racial and ethnic strife have remained issues the Church has addressed from the very beginning. Now in our present day, in a climate of ever-expanding freedoms, every Christian is obliged to apply Christ-like critique to personal preferences and judgments in effort to steer clear of seeing others as somehow different.

“They are not like us” is something we hear commonly said.  So, we avoid their neighborhoods.  We avoid social interaction with those people.  We stand from a distance and imagine how bad they are in order to justify our lack of involvement with them.  And ‘because those kinds of people are different, they are not necessarily entitled to, or they don’t deserve, or are not interested in working toward what resourceful and otherwise people like me are entitled to or work for.’

Added to this is the fear of shortages, the fear that we are not treated fairly in comparison to others, the fear of foreigners entering our space.  Regular media reports about the encroachment of refugees and migrants seeking respite from war and conflict, religious or ethnic persecution typically stir fear in people.  While it is a human penchant to differentiate, differentiation acts counter the sensibilities of the Christian message of love of neighbor we received from Jesus Christ.

We look to the Christian template in Acts 2, which inspires mixed class, mixed race and mixed generational communities, and we see that it must translate to our faith communities, as well. Communities in which we would never aspire towards mono-racial parishes because we would recognize they are incomplete, admitting that we are responsible for the application, punctuation and scheduling the universality of God’s kingdom, which is always the higher rubric in the Christian dispensation.

Indeed, the social imperatives found in the gospel are some of the most challenging messages to get across in preaching and Christian formation. It is a genuine struggle getting these ideals across to people, even to sincere Christians.  Material wealth and well-being are deemed manna from heaven. People prefer to live this way – economic advantage and opportunity enable us to live this way. But as positive as advantage, free enterprise and choice are deemed in our democracy, they unwittingly work a divide in the human community.

The City of Chicago is often representative of some of the most glaring disparities in opportunity: housing, education and access to health care.  Disproportionate numbers of people of color live in misery, condemned to lives of desperation, fueled by depression, and crime chosen as a path by anti-social elements in the sub culture.  Adding to the challenge of the Christian task are the people on the other side who easily dispense themselves from indifference and numbness felt in the face of some overwhelming social inequities surrounding us.

Whereas our nation has addressed many legal barriers to ending racism with civil rights legislation, we must continue to be vigilant for we are now challenged to deal with attitudinal and economic barriers to ending racism. The Church’s voice, strong in instances, muted in others, has tried to break through social walls that divide.  We find that people listen and may even nod in the affirmative to what is preached, but certain stubborn social patterns continue.

Christian faith affords us opportunities to reach to the deepest recesses of our hearts to search out attitudes and dispositions and information from our rearing that need discarding if we would live as a redeemed people. For example: ‘From where do my impressions of others originate?  Do I tend to label people or place them in categories?  Do I tend to expect the worse or the best from others regardless who they are?  When are the numbers of minorities close by too many for my comfort level?

What attitudes and approaches are we leaving to the young in legacy so they can help eradicate this original and pernicious sin of our society called racism?

Most Reverend Joseph Perry is an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Episcopal Vicar for Vicariate VI. Bishop Perry is the Diocesan Postulator for the Cause of Canonization of Father Augustus Tolton.

This blog post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version on the Catholic Chicago Blog.


This week, Catholics from all over the country are gathering to pray and learn about what it means to dismantle internalized judgments of our neighbor. The Social Action Summer Institute hosts a number of sessions to help bring about this clarity at Saint Xavier University on July 17-21st. For more information, visit: www.chicagopeaceandjustice.org/SASI. You can also follow the conversation on social media #SASI2016.

I don’t know how I feel . . .

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Today, as usual, I stopped by my local coffee shop where the friendly, courteous barista asked me, as she does every day, “How do you feel?”

I blurted out my routine, perfunctory, usual, everyday customary response: “Fine, and you?”

I walked out and pondered the lie. . . . I wasn’t fine. In fact, I don’t know how I feel. I returned to the coffee shop and spent an hour talking with her. Neither of us was “fine.”

After the recent killing of those sworn to protect and serve in Dallas AND the killing by  those sworn to protect and serve in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Ferguson, and so many other cities… I honestly don’t know or understand this feeling. It has gone beyond sadness, gone beyond disgust, gone beyond anger, beyond sorrow, beyond fear. This feeling for me and for so many others is new, yet to be defined or given a name.

Angrily, I am prepared to answer the standard litany of questions from folks about the victims:

“Why didn’t he just not resist?”

“Did he have an arrest record?”

“Did he have a job?”

“Was he married to his children’s mother?”

“Why aren’t you as upset when it is ‘black on black’ murder?”

“If the officers are guilty, why are there never any convictions?”

“Were the officers white?”

“Was the sniper black?”

“Was he connected to any ‘terrorist’ movements?”

ENOUGH!

Sadly, more people are killed. More people not going home for dinner tonight or ever again.

Police officers who overwhelmingly help us sleep comfortably at night and are often times underappreciated were senselessly killed as they protected folk who voiced displeasure and concern about the killing of young men around the country.

Earlier this week, we witnessed yet again young African American men killed at the hands of a system that is paid for and sanctioned by our tax dollars or by society. Young lives and children of God also taken too soon. Lives that have dignity, persons who by U.S. legal standards are innocent until proven guilty. And yes, the lives of those shot dead in inner cities are just as valued, just as precious. Life matters. For urban youth, for law enforcement, for us.

… I don’t know how I feel . . . perhaps a bit guilty for still being here, as an African-American male who has also, like so many other persons of color, looked down at an un-holstered revolver during a traffic stop. For some reason, I and the persons traveling with me were spared. I don’t know how I feel.

… I don’t know how I feel as I joyfully celebrate progress while simultaneously sadly lamenting regress. Poverty, crime, unemployment, environmental racism, and despair flourish throughout the country, yet disproportionately in black and brown communities.

…I don’t know how I feel. I have so many good friends in law enforcement, mostly in North Texas, including Dallas, who are experiencing intense pain, and feeling vulnerable and exposed as they protect and serve with dignity and professionalism.

… I don’t know how I feel when folks still find comfort in asking the same old, tired questions that seem to comfort and appease their consciences and not address the problems.

I feel confused as we chalk this one up and wait for the next one, and then the next one, and then the next one. The next government sanctioned, gang related, rage-filled, terroristic, domestic violence, or mental illness caused- killing of another of our brothers, our sisters, our children . . . and then wait on the next one.

There will be vigils, prayers, protests, and screams of anguish, trials, and tons of tears but will there be change?

I don’t know how I feel . . . hopeless, in despair, weak, I just want to just sleep, but can’t. Because to use the mantra of the new movement, I have to “stay woke”. To heed the words of Pope Francis, “Let no one consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!” To heed the words in Matthew 26:52: “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

I don’t know how I feel, but I feel like there has to be a better way.

A retired prison warden friend of mine reminded me that on most prison yards, there are no guns. Prison guards don’t have them and yet they figure out a way to take down the most hardened criminals without shooting or killing them.

Sometimes I feel like giving up but then I remember that anti-violence and restorative justice efforts are steadfast and aren’t giving up despite overwhelming odds. Fr. Michael Pfleger and the faithful around St. Sabina’s Catholic Church in Chicago are not giving up. The California Catholic Conference is not giving up. Rev. Michael McBride and the dedicated folks in the Live Free Movement aren’t giving up. Despite all, folks aren’t giving up!

I feel encouraged by this new movement of young folk of all races that seem to have more energy, more clarity, and more optimism than movements of the past. For the most part, they are peaceful and determined.  They are not giving up.

I thank God that I can still feel … feel for Dallas AND Minnesota AND Baton Rouge AND…

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD and follow on Twitter @EndPovertyUSA.


 

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.  

Faith-based Groups Leading Efforts for Racial Equity

Rich WoodPope Francis, on his recent visit to the United States and in his customary hopeful tone, remembered “the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans.  This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed” (Sept 26, 2015).

Many Americans—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—remain inspired by Pope Francis’ visit. Yet America also struggles to live up to his hopeful vision of eliminating racism and prejudice. Racial controversies roil our universities, incidents of racialized policing lead to deaths, and mass incarceration curtails the life chances of too many young black and brown men. We have failed to build racial equity into the fabric of our society. That task remains urgent three decades after the U.S. bishops diagnosed it thus: “Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it means an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979).

The bishops and Catholics in the United States have been putting money into that struggle for decades through the annual collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which takes place in many parishes throughout the United States in November. CCHD’s systematic investment in faith-based community organizing in dioceses and archdioceses around the country represents perhaps the Church’s best investment in fighting racism and working for racial equity in America. These groups fight poverty by empowering people in poor and working class communities to work for social policies in line with Catholic social teaching—often collaborating across racial and ethnic lines.

Many CCHD-funded groups have come to focus on explicitly working for racial equity. One such group is Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER).  POWER brings together Philadelphians across lines of race, income level, faith tradition, culture, and neighborhood. More than 40 congregations from every section of the city have actively participated in the building of POWER, which works to address racism and promote policy changes to improve communities in Philadelphia, such as fair funding for education, economic dignity through fair wages, and access to affordable housing.

The work of POWER in Philadelphia is but one example of how CCHD-supported groups are realizing the hopes Pope Francis expressed during his visit to the United States. There are hundreds of groups carrying out this work throughout the United States. These kinds of local faith-based organizing efforts offer Catholics a chance to be part of answering those questions.

Answer Pope Francis’ call. Learn more about what CCHD-supported groups are doing in your area and get involved!

Richard L. Wood serves as a consultant to the CCHD Subcommittee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is the author of the just-published A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy, and works as a professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico


Learn more about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the state of poverty in the United States at PovertyUSA.org.

During the month of January, don’t forget to celebrate Poverty Awareness Month using this printable calendar (en Español), longer daily reflections (en Español), and our daily emails.  These resources provide food for prayer and action to address poverty in the United States.