Catholics need to respond to racism

The image accompanying this story is jarring. It is from Detroit in 1942. I have never personally encountered something so blunt and racist.  Naively, I wanted to believe that this type of overt racism was a thing of the past, and that more and more people were beginning to realize how racism damages, and how many hold racist views, sometimes without even being aware of it.

In researching for this story, I found interesting examples of the history of racism.  There was this statement from the mayor of Baltimore in 1910.  “Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidence of civil disturbance, to prevent the spread of communicable disease into the nearby White neighborhoods, and to protect property values among the White majority.”  There is a book by Beryl Satter called Family Properties that documents how black communities were exploited by landlords in Chicago.

But lest we think this is limited to the past, Marketplace recently ran a piece about alternatives to mortgages and housing loans in Detroit.  And as recent events in Charlottesville demonstrate, racism is alive and well in the United States.

It is certainly the case that there has been a lot said about the events of Charlottesville, Virginia.  But what is a person of faith to do?  How is it that a Catholic can move beyond ideology and politics to approach the issue from the discerning view of faith?  While these are not easy issues, the bishops of the United States have materials on their website to help with the challenging issue of how to confront racism.

The challenge lies in the words of Pope Francis:

Some of you said: this system can no longer be endured. We must change it; we must put human dignity again at the center and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need. It must be done with courage, but also with intelligence, with tenacity but without fanaticism, with passion but without violence. And among us all, addressing the conflicts without being trapped in them, always seeking to resolve the tensions to reach a higher plane of unity, peace and justice. – Pope Francis, October 28, 2017

It can be the case that we simply do not know about what the Catholic Church in the United States is currently doing to help Catholics and other people of good will begin to address some of these very complex issues.  Too often, the Catholic faith can be presented as something far removed from everyday life.  And yet, Jesus sends us forth to teach, make disciples and baptize.

But how are we to do this? How is it that a person of faith is able to summon the courage to confront racism in a way that does not become immoral itself?  How is it that we confront the threats to human life in our world today?  Violence, racism, abortion, assisted suicide, genocide, hunger, and other issues are complex issues without simple solutions.  So the question remains.  How does a faith-filled individual work to express the acceptable outrage without using immoral means to do so?

This past January, the US Bishops released a task force report that contained recommendations about actions and prayers that could be taken.  Recognizing this is a long-term project, the bishops nonetheless encouraged Catholics and all people of good will to summon the courage to move forward.  To that end, this past July Archbishop Kurtz, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for a day of prayer this September 9.  A website authored by the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Development suggests five concrete ways to cultivate peace and work for racial justice.

In light of the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the bishops released resources for priests and deacons to assist with preaching.  A the end of this document, there are good questions for thinking about our own personal attitudes about racism.  There is the USCCB website “We are Salt and Light,” which encourages each of us to “reach out together, pray together, act together and learn together.”  There are many great actions and ideas on this website to help local communities grown in faith.  There are inspiring success stories to help us see and acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit.

And so it is not the case the Church is silent about difficult issues.  Below is a list of websites and resources that could be helpful.

We are Salt and LightWe Are Salt and Light includes resources intended as a catalyst for both the New Evangelization and the continuing development of vibrant communities living the Gospel in the United States. Communities that strive to be salt and light share God’s love with others, as we encounter Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit’s transforming presence.

To Go Forth. A blog from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development. Inspired by Pope Francis.

Rebuilding the Bridge: African American Affairs’ 50th Anniversary Initiative.  In 2014 and 2015, the USCCB encouraged the Catholic community to rediscover this slice of history through the prism of the Church’s involvement at the time and within the current social context.

Letter from Birmingham Jail Study Guide.  Christian Churches Together, on the 50th anniversary of the Letter from Birmingham Jail, released a response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement as well as a study guide for reflection. Below you will find the full package – Introduction Letter, the Study Guide Intro for Catholics and the CCT Study Guide.

Intercultural Competencies.  This page explains the five competencies that were defined by the U.S. bishops in making “Recognition of Cultural Diversity in the Church” one of their priorities.

United States Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops Resources on Racism.  This is a large collection of resources designed to educate and provide resources to confront racism.




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