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.


A 9/11 Reflection: Peace, Healing, and Reconciliation

headshot of Fr. John Crossin

Fr. John Crossin, OSFS

Like many people, I can clearly remember where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001. As I was riding home on a mostly empty Metro train late that afternoon, I saw that the Pentagon Station was closed. As we passed Reagan National Airport, the sky was completely clear, the runways empty, the parking lot vacant, the entrances blocked, the setting eerie. My heart was numb.

Two days later, numbness gave way to admiration as I talked to government workers who worked downtown. At the time, they thought there could be more planes. On the day they thought they might die, they tried to help one another. They thought about their families. They tried in vain to contact them. Even two days later as they processed their feelings of fear and uncertainly, they maintained a focus on others.

Of course, even after all these years, we have scars. Death and trauma leave marks on us.

There still can be a need for healing and reconciliation in our lives—even these many years later. In my experience, healing of major traumas is more an ongoing process extending over time than a ‘once and for all experience.’

Pope Francis will come to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City on September 25 for a Multireligious Gathering for Peace. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious leaders from the Metropolitan New York area and beyond will pray in the presence of one another and give a common witness to peace.

This Gathering will be an impetus to peace, healing, and reconciliation. It could become a milestone in the process. But the long-term impact will work itself out in our individual lives as we let the healing power of Christ’s mercy come more deeply into our hearts and as we show that healing mercy to those around us.


John W. Crossin, OSFS, is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB.