Last weekend, the Ku Klux Klan converged upon Charlottesville, Va. I am not naïve about the existence of racism in the United States. As a Mexican-American woman with brown skin, I have often experienced instances of racism. Until recently, however, I had imagined the K.K.K. as a fossil calcified in our national history, not as a living, active organism still instilling fear, marshaling intimidation and potentially inciting violence….
As we discern the signs of the times, the question of racial injustice confronts the Catholic Church in a forceful way. Our church teaches that racism is a sin against the dignity of human life. Yet, fighting racism is seldom placed at the heart of our robust social justice advocacy….
On July 6, I received an email invitation from a local parish: “HOLY HOUR FOR PEACE AND THE END OF HATRED AND RACISM.” We would pray the rosary in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in anticipation of the K.K.K.’s rally. Frankly, I was surprised to receive an invitation of this nature from this particular parish. Like many Catholic parishes in the United States, this one almost never discusses race or racism in explicit terms, even as the body count of unarmed black men and women killed at the hands of police officers continues to climb. I quickly rearranged my schedule to be present with others for this prayer….
I focus my gaze on my rosary. It is adorned with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego. Guadalupe’s image is the anti-Klan. Her presence is announced not with threats of violence or false notions of racial purity but with flor y canto—flowers and song. The brown-skinned Virgin, adorned with colorful symbols of both Aztec and Spanish splendor, testifies to the beauty that we can find in our differences. She appears to Juan Diego, the despised and denigrated person of colonial society, and empowers him to communicate her message to the church’s powerful bishops and clergy. She invites communion by making the powerless equal to the powerful. As Patroness of the Americas, she rejects all forms of hatred and racism as an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ who affirms the dignity of every human being, the beauty of justice and equality….
Still, I wonder why I have never heard racism denounced in such clarion terms from a parish before. Will I hear it denounced so clearly again? Does the Catholic Church in the United States have the courage to stand up to racism before the K.K.K. comes to town? Or after the K.K.K. leaves town? Will our parishes stand in solidarity with those involved in nonviolent direct action in response to racial hatred?