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.

 

Engaging in Authentic Encounter: A Lesson from 5th Graders

“I cannot engage in dialogue if I am closed to others. Openness? Even more: acceptance! Come to my house, enter my heart. My heart welcomes you. It wants to hear you. . . This capacity for empathy leads to a genuine encounter – we have to progress toward this culture of encounter.”  (Pope Francis—Meeting with Asian Bishops, August 17, 2014 )

There are very dramatic instances of these types of encounters in the scriptures and from many holy women and men in the past. However, fifth graders from St. Paul, Minnesota, provide us with a perfect, down-to-earth example of what Pope Francis is talking about. On Wednesday, May 24, 5th grade students from St. Mark’s Catholic School and Al-Amal School met each other at a park after exchanging letters for several weeks.

In the words of one 5th grader from St. Mark’s Catholic School, this engagement began because “You’re Muslim, we’re Christian, and we want to be friends.

Kelley Stoneburner, a counselor at Al-Amal School, established the first contact with St. Mark’s School. Kelly has a nephew that attends St. Mark’s School; she reached out to Rachel Ogard, the 5th grade teacher at St. Mark’s School, and proposed the idea of having the students become pen pals. Ogard said, “We both wanted to do something to bridge the two cultures, and help the kids really see that, although there are religious differences between us, we are really very alike in many ways.”

St. Mark’s School was very supportive of the proposal. In preparation for this encounter, principal Zachary Zeckser taught the 5th graders at St. Mark’s School a class on Abrahamic religions. “God wants us all to be one,” Principal Zeckser shared with the students as he explored the commonalities between the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions.

The students introduced themselves through their letters; they were intrigued by their differences in culture and faith. They learned new things about each other—like how long Catholic prayers can be and what the hijab is. Ogard shares that her class learned “that many of the kids at Al-Amal School had parents who were foreign born and many spoke several languages…and many of the kids LOVE soccer!”

At Merriam Park, the students played a game of soccer, exchanged personal emails, and introduced their pen pals to their friends. Ogard expressed that the students desired to form friendships outside of the school setting. It was quite simple for them—they met and welcomed new friends into their life. They took the risk of branching out and embracing others in their diversity and discovered the beauty of acceptance.

This example is both inspiring—and challenging—for me as an adult. As hard as I work at being open and accepting others as they are, it is still tempting for me to create barriers and filter openness. It seems unnatural for me to jump into uncomfortable territory and establish connections without reservations. I resonate with Principal Zeckser’s observation that adults can be hesitant, while the children are open and capable of love and relationships with others. Principal Zeckser recounted an experience he had while inquiring about the most appropriate way to greet the mothers of the children from Al-Amal. An eager 5th grader from St. Mark’s School who overheard his conversation interjected, “Yeah, don’t shake their hand—just go say ‘hi’ to them!” In the current climate of fear and discrimination in our world, these 5th graders’ gesture is a powerful testimony of authentic encounter. Their actions say: my heart welcomes you.

William A. Petry is a summer intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a student at Ave Maria University in Florida.


Going Deeper

This inspiring story was also recently featured on WeAreSaltAndLight.org!  Read it here and view photos from the students’ interfaith encounter.

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and Racism

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

The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells this out:

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

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

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

The Many Faces of Racism

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

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

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

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

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

Responses to Racism

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

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

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

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

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

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


Going Deeper

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

6 Ways You Can Celebrate the Season of Creation

A fragment of the Earth with high relief, detailed surface, translucent ocean and atmosphere, illuminated by sunlightToday we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, a day established by Pope Francis in the Catholic Church two years ago. Many have begun to link this day with the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi—one of our most beloved models of caring for creation and the poor—to form a “Season of Creation.” In his message establishing this day of prayer, Pope Francis declared that “the ecological crisis . . . summons us to a profound spiritual conversion.”

These five weeks offer an important opportunity to deepen this aspect of our faith. Below are some ways to celebrate this time, both as individuals and as communities.

As individuals and families

Meal Prayer

Before and after meals, say a short prayer of thanksgiving for the life-giving food that sustains and nourishes us. Briefly consider how all nourishment ultimately comes from the earth, and for all the human hands that helped bring this food to your table. May we recognize, as Laudato Si’ has taught us, that this “moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life” (no. 227).

Counteract the “Throwaway Culture”

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis brings attention to our “throwaway culture,” which “quickly reduces things to rubbish” (no. 22). In your daily life, try to identify the ways in which you can choose reusables, rather than disposables, such as coffee mugs, reusable bags, or cloth napkins, and commit to making one change during this month.

Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession

In calling for a deep “ecological conversion,” Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of examining one’s own conscience, of recognizing one’s sins against creation, however great or small. Seeing the interconnectedness of our world leads to an understanding that “[e]very violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment” (Caritas in Veritate, no. 51). We invite you to bring these sins to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to perform a spiritual work of mercy for our common home, such as an act of “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si’, no. 214).

As a community

Bible Group Praying Together Holding Hands With Eyes ClosedEducational Program

Use the educational program “Befriend the Wolf” from the Catholic Climate Covenant to reflect on our vocation as stewards of creation. The program is designed to help your community contemplate the connections between all creatures under God our Creator. Visit bit.ly/CCC-BTF to access this resource.

Eucharistic Adoration

One of the most meaningful ways we give thanks as Christians is through the sacrament of the Eucharist, a word which means “thanksgiving.” As Laudato Si’ teaches, through “the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God” (no. 236). To celebrate this sacred reality during the Season of Creation, we recommend hosting a one-hour, care for creation-themed eucharistic adoration in your parish. Please visit bit.ly/PCJP-EA to access a resource created by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for this purpose.

Prayer Service

One final suggestion for this time is to organize a prayer service in your parish. The Catholic Climate Covenant has developed a four-part prayer service to be said after Mass each week. As we approach the beautiful autumn season, holding this service outside may allow for a rich experience. Please visit bit.ly/CCC-PS to access this resource.

This post was adapted from a resource developed by the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.


Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice page for resources for prayer, reflection, learning, and action during the Season of Creation—and beyond.

How Can You Honor Workers? A Perspective from Austin

Our faith teachings call us, Catholics and all people of faith, to care for our neighbor and to work for justice for all. As a long-time organizer, I have worked alongside leaders to address pressures on families and improve their lives through acting on issues. We identify these issues from relational conversations, such as those that members of our communities have with each other. Then together we address them to bring change. With support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Austin Interfaith Sponsoring Committee leaders have organized to create initiatives and marshal resources that have benefited Austin-area children, families, and residents.

Austin Interfaith leaders gather at city hall to call for a living wage (2013)

One area of particular concern is ensuring that more workers have meaningful work, livable wages, and worker protections. We are taught that the dignity of the human person is tied to the dignity of work.  In Laudato Si’ no. 128, Pope Francis writes that “We were created with a vocation to work. … (and) To stop investing in people…is bad business for society.” That’s why Austin Interfaith has led the campaign in Austin to increase the city living wage floor over time to now $13.50/hour for all city workers and workers employed through contractors with the city. In addition, we’ve worked with allies to require worker protections for all construction workers on city contracted projects.

Our perspective, like that of a grandparent, is not simply on the next year or the next election cycle, but on the next generation.  In 1998, the congregations of Austin Interfaith created the Capital IDEA job training and workforce intermediary, which provides a pathway for low-income Austin residents to access new, high-paying opportunities in healthcare, technology, and manufacturing trades – jobs that provide benefits and a career path. Nearly twenty years later, over 1,400 low income adults have started new lives as nurses, sonographers, network administrators, electronic technicians, electricians, and many other careers. In 2016, Capital IDEA participants went from earning an average salary of $10,500 to an average beginning salary of almost $41,000.

An immigrant from Mexico, Elizabeth Soltero cleaned university offices overnight and cared for her young daughter during the day while her husband worked construction. They barely saw each other as a family. For three years, Capital IDEA provided tuition, fees, books, child care, and case management so Elizabeth could attend and graduate from the local community college as a network administrator. Elizabeth Soltero became Capital IDEA’s 1,000th graduate in 2012. With a specialization in information security, she now she manages a computer network for IBM, works during the day, and has bought a new house.

An even more fundamental achievement is the next generation. Through Elizabeth’s example, her daughter is well along a path to become a college graduate herself. An analysis of local school district data found that 70 percent of the children of Capital IDEA graduates go directly to college after high school – 25 percentage points higher than otherwise expected.

Capital IDEA is part of a network of model workforce programs that bring the civic, business, and public sectors together in partnership to expand opportunities for more workers to get training to qualify for jobs that can support them and their families.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we recall the contributions and sacrifices of workers that are critical to all of our lives, and call for all to work together across income levels to bring public policy and resource changes in your communities to increase opportunities of low-wage workers.

Kathleen Davis is Lead Organizer with Austin Interfaith — a broad based, nonpartisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of congregations and institutions that together develop the leadership to address issues that affect the well-being of low and moderate income families in the Austin area.


Going Deeper

Read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ annual Labor Day statement here, and learn more about Catholic teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers here.

 

Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley carries a monstrance during eucharistic adoration at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 2 in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations are gathering for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America was an unprecedented gathering. Led by 155 bishops, over 3,200 Catholic leaders attended from 159 dioceses and over 200 national Catholic organizations, apostolates, and movements. Inspired by Evangelii Gaudium, the Convocation equipped and re-energized leaders to share the Gospel as missionary disciples.

One special moment set the tone for honest conversations throughout the Convocation–the Sunday evening of adoration and reflection: “Encountering Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy.”

Introducing the reflection, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas shared: “We pause to pray and reflect together on both our wounds and the ways that we, as individuals and as Church, have participated in or failed to prevent the woundedness of others.” Seán Cardinal O’Malley of Boston led the devotion, which included a Litany of Sorrow based on the five wounds of Christ. Five specific areas were addressed.

The Scandal of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Bishop Flores prayed to Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy: “We implore you to heal the hearts of all those who have been wounded by the evil of sexual abuse, especially within the Church. We pray that your Divine Mercy will move to repentance all those who, in any way, have contributed to this evil by their actions or inactions. Prompt the Church to acknowledge its failures in protecting children in the past and the loss of trust that has resulted. May we never again forget our responsibility to protect the children in the care of the Church.”

A Lack of Respect for Human Dignity

An African American leader prayed for a profound respect for the dignity of every human life: “Awaken in us an acknowledgement of the multitude of ways in which human dignity is threatened–with abortion and assisted suicide, on death row, in abusive homes, and amid racial or ethnic discrimination.”

Selfish Disregard of the Common Good

A young refugee prayed that Jesus would cleanse us of our disregard for others: “Help us to promote peace in war-torn lands, to assist refugees, to seek justice for the poor who suffer each day from homelessness, hunger, and hopelessness, and to protect the beauty of your Creation which sustains us all.”

Suffering from Participation in Abortion

A diocesan Project Rachel director offered the intention for the millions of women and men in our nation who are wounded from their participation in abortions: “Help us as a Church to recognize the unique pain that abortion brings to individuals, families, and our society.”

The Hurt We Have Individually Caused Others

A leader from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability prayed for Jesus to help us acknowledge all the hurt we have ever caused ourselves or others through our thoughts, words, actions, inaction, or times when we excluded others: “Grant us the grace to sincerely repent of our sins. Fill us with your overflowing love and mercy that will enable us to serve as your loving hands and faithful disciples who proclaim your gospel throughout the world with great joy.”

From sins of commission to sins of omission, from excluding persons to racism, from sexual abuse to not addressing domestic violence, from abortion to turning our backs on the inconvenient, as this litany indicates, we needed to begin the Convocation by acknowledging our failures and seeking forgiveness. Thankfully, there were many opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession throughout the course of the Convocation

That grace, and the overflowing love of Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy, made all the difference in making the Convocation an authentic moment of healing for the Church in America.

Tom Grenchik is the Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Learn about the bishops’ pro-life activities at www.usccb.org/prolife

 This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Life Issues Forum.


Going Deeper

 How are you called to help heal wounds and imitate Jesus’ mercy? Join the Church’s work to fight racism, prevent sexual abuse, protect the unborn, and welcome migrants and refugees.

 

Stand Up and Speak Out: Racism is a Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Deeper

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