Pope Francis on Anti-Racism Protests in the US: We Cannot Tolerate or Turn a Blind Eye to Racism

via Vatican News:

In his greetings to the English-speaking faithful at the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis addressed the people of the United States, as protests continue throughout the nation.

“I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd,” he said. “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”…

“At the same time, we have to recognize that ‘the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost’.”…

Pope Francis added that today he joins the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and throughout the entire US, “in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism.”


Highlights from Bishop Mark Seitz’s Prophetic Pastoral Letter on Racism, El Paso, and the Border

Bishop Seitz writes:

  • On August 3rd, 2019, El Paso was the scene of a massacre or matanza that left 22 dead, injured dozens and traumatized a binational community. Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy.
  • Challenging racism and white supremacy, whether in our hearts or in society, is a Christian imperative and the cost of not facing these issues head on, weighs much more heavily on those who live the reality of discrimination.
  • The Catholic Church in the United States supports the ban on assault weapons that lawmakers senselessly let expire in 2004 and our Church continues to advocate for reasonable regulations on firearms that Congress still won’t pass.2 The constant pressures on families and the embarrassing lack of access to mental healthcare in this country surely also play a role.
  • But the mystery of evil motivating attacks like the El Paso matanza goes deeper than these. It is something more complex than laws and policies alone can fix. What else explains the perversity of attacks on African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other communities?
  • This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color. This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization. In other words, racism.
  • If we are honest, racism is really about advancing, shoring up, and failing to oppose a system of white privilege and advantage based on skin color. When this system begins to shape our public choices, structure our common life together and becomes a tool of class, this is rightly called institutionalized racism. Action to build this system of hate and inaction to oppose its dismantling are what we rightly call white supremacy. This is the evil one and the ‘father of lies’ (John 8, 44) incarnate in our everyday choices and lifestyles, and our laws and institutions.
  • Our highest elected officials have used the word ‘invasion’ and ‘killer’ over 500 times to refer to migrants4, treated migrant children as pawns on a crass political chessboard, insinuated that judges and legislators of color are un-American, and have made wall-building a core political project.
  • Yet the attitudes of the Spanish colonizers included the erroneous notion of racial purity based on light skin, a belief which in some places continues today, even in internalized fashion.
  • After its entry into the United States, Texas saw dramatic mass migration into the state from White settlers from other parts of the country…. In their wake came ‘Juan Crow’ laws of segregation, the prohibition of then-common interracial marriage, new racial hierarchies, the dispossession of tribal communities, efforts to disenfranchise Mexican residents and a true campaign of terror. This campaign included the lynching and murder of likely thousands of Latinos, terror undertaken just as much by vigilantes as by official state actors like the Texas Rangers, and often in concert.
  • The wall is a powerful symbol in the story of race. It has helped to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects.
  • Some cannot understand the visceral reaction of many in the borderlands to the wall. It is not just a tool of national security. More than that, the wall is a symbol of exclusion, especially when allied to an overt politics of xenophobia…. It perpetuates the racist myth that the area south of the border is dangerous and foreign and that we are merely passive observers in the growth of narco-violence and the trafficking of human beings and drugs…. There will be a day when after this wall has come crumbling down we will look back and remember the wall as a monument to hate.
  • Why is there greater poverty, less access to education and health care and lower wages in our border community?
  • Our identity is formed in the grace-filled relationships we freely pursue with God, others and Creation. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself’. On our border we have seen that racism radically undermines those relationships.
  • Guadalupe invites us to leave behind fear and join her in the work of advancing justice in America with joy. We are called to die to an attitude of fear and rise with a will to encounter others in vulnerability, to appreciate the gifts of every culture and people, with a willingness to be changed for the better by right relationships with God, others and the earth.
  • But as builders of the Temple of Justice here in the Americas, it is not enough to not be racist. Our reaction cannot be non-engagement. We must also make a commitment to be anti-racists in active solidarity with the suffering and excluded.
  • We must work to ensure all our children have access to quality educational opportunities, eliminate inequality in the colonias, pass immigration reform, eradicate discrimination, guarantee universal access to health care, ensure the protection of all human life, end the scourge of gun violence, improve wages on both sides of the border, offer just and sustainable development opportunities, defend the environment and honor the dignity of every person. This is how we write a new chapter in our history of solidarity and friendship that future generations can remember with pride.
  • In the absence of immigration reform, I also renew my appeal to the President of the United States, to the Members of Congress and to the jurists of our highest Courts. I beg you to listen to the voice of conscience and halt the deportation of all those who are not a danger to our communities, to stop the separation of families, and to end once and for all the turning back of refugees and death at the border.

Remembering MLK’s Radicalism and Defending the Dignity of Black Lives

Nichole Flores writes:

Martin Luther King Jr. has been upheld as the paragon of racial justice activism, offering a broadly compelling account of human dignity grounded in his vision of the beloved community. But 50 years after his assassination, this vision is often manipulated or taken out of context in ways that water down the radical nature of his dream or minimize his life of protest and active solidarity that ended with the violence of a bullet aimed at silencing his message. It is this same vision of human dignity, however, that calls us to re-examine Dr. King’s moral legacy for us today. Specifically, his affirmation of human dignity compels Catholics to declare that black lives matter and to align our church with an affirmation of the sanctity of black life….

If human beings are created in the image of God, then the hatred of any human person, including the hatred or mistreatment of another person based on his or her race, is an affront to that image. But this is only the baseline of a Christian response to racism. The more difficult, more demanding and more Christlike response to racism requires a positive love of and enduring solidarity with those who have been subject to racial injustice, especially those neighbors whose lives are being threatened by hatred and violence. More than a general, abstract affirmation that racism is wrong or undesirable for society, Catholic faith requires acknowledgment of specific persons and communities who are being threatened and harmed by enduring structures of anti-blackness and a resurgent cultural acceptability of racist ideas and actions. In short, Catholic faith demands that we proclaim that black lives matter….

Protest is the public face of the demand for dignity, expressing specific social and political claims linked to this moral affirmation. These claims include voting rights, education, employment, housing and equal treatment under the law. While some find protest to be too radical or socially disruptive, marching with those whose lives are treated as if they do not matter is a vital aspect of Christian solidarity.

We cannot forget that protest was a centerpiece of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christian witness, the embodied manifestation of his belief that all people are created equal. He marched for the truth for which he was ultimately killed: that black lives should matter to us because they already matter to God.


White Christians Are Called to Embrace Anti-Racism, Not Just Non-Racism

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Millennial writer Meghan Clark writes:

As Christians, we must recognize that there is no such thing as a non-racist. There is no third option. Non-racism is a passive rejection of racism, but it is also a rejection of human dignity, solidarity and the common good. It is a category created to allow one to feel comfortable in one’s own moral rejection of racism while tolerating it in society.

We must speak up, and we must stand up. It is a moral imperative that we respond not only with words but actions. We are called to emulate the courage and actions of the U.V.A. students and Heather Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville.

Solidarity is the recognition that we are all one human family and we all have equal human dignity. In realizing that my human dignity is bound up in yours, I come to understand that any violation of your dignity violates my own as well. Solidarity reframes our understanding of moral responsibility and recognizes that we have a moral duty to promote justice and the common good. More than just a negative duty not to harm, we have a positive duty to promote the dignity of others. We have a duty to confront and dismantle racism and white supremacy. As Christians, we have a moral duty to be anti-racist.



Statement of the National Black Catholic Congress on the Civil Unrest in Baltimore

The National Black Catholic Congress has released a statement on the civil unrest in Baltimore:

The recent events in Baltimore, Maryland, along with those in Ferguson, Missouri and other communities in our nation, lead us to reaffirm our position as African American Catholics on the inviolate value of the Life and Dignity of every Human Person.

Deeply rooted in the Word of God and our Catholic Social Teaching, and in the spirit of the Pastoral Plan from the eleventh National Black Catholic Congress in 2012, we deplore the violence, brutality, harmful illegal and self-destructive behavior and the racism that plagues our communities. We call for prayerful, honest and peaceful dialogue that will lead to justice and truth.

Poverty and hopelessness breed violence and despair. With tragic frequency young people, our most treasured human asset, seem to be both perpetrators and victims. Not all anger and frustration manifests itself in looting or violent behavior, and many know how to positively, creatively and productively channel their frustrations.

More than ever we need a new model for engaging society on poverty and race. Faith communities have a unique and particular role to play in the healing of broken communities and are called to courageous witness. The Catholic Community in particular has been challenged by Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to enter fully into the struggles of the people who are most marginalized and on the peripheries of society. We call for a renewed a commitment to ministry with our youth and young adults, along with meaningful commitment to meet their educational, employment and other social justice needs.

The full statement can be read here.


A Very Catholic Week: The March for Life, Selma, and Immigration Reform

There are three things I heard over the past week that are stuck in my head.

First, “We are the pro-life generation!” Thousands of young people chanted this refrain at last Thursday’s March for Life in Washington.

Then, “We’re not asking – we’re demanding! Give us the vote!” This was a masterful Daniel Oyelowo portraying Martin Luther King, Jr., in the film Selma, which I saw on Saturday. In the scene, the minister and civil rights leader is speaking to a church congregation of African Americans who had systematically been blocked from registering to vote in Selma, Alabama.

Finally, “La iglesia está con ustedes,” or “The Church stands with you.” This was the message delivered by Bishop Sullivan and pastor Fr. Vince Guest at an information session on President Obama’s immigration executive action at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton on Sunday. At the gathering, which drew over 500 people, experts from the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice described the president’s order, which could make thousands of undocumented South Jersey residents eligible for a type of temporary permission to stay in the United States.

Taken together, these lines and the events where I heard them offer some interesting points about discipleship. Here are three:

1) God takes sides; we should, too.

I once heard a conference speaker tell the story of an older brother, a younger sister, and a dad. The brother often picked on his sister, she would call out for Dad’s help, and he would intervene on her behalf. The son complained, “You always take her side! You love her more than me!” The father replied, “It’s because I love you both the same that I take her side. If someone ever picks on you, I’ll take your side.”

This anecdote gets at something crucial about God’s love. Of course He loves all his children the same amount. But like the dad in the story, that doesn’t mean he remains neutral in all conflicts. Instead, as we see over and over again in Scripture, he sides with the oppressed and suffering. Think of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt who Moses leads to freedom, the exiles in Babylon who God’s prophet Isaiah comforts, and the woman caught in adultery who Jesus defends from the angry, judgmental mob. To imitate God’s love in our own lives, we must be on the look-out for similar instances of the powerful targeting certain groups of people, and raise our voices with and for those in harm’s way. What incredible examples of this sort of faith in action I witnessed on the National Mall, at the movie theater, and at Holy Cross.

2) As we do our best to take the side of the poor and vulnerable consistently, we will find that we don’t fit neatly into the American political left/right binary.

I love the consistency of the message woven through my recent experiences: pro-life, pro-racial justice, pro-immigrant family. It reminded me of something Cardinal Timothy Dolan said during a speech a couple years ago. We are called to be comprehensive in our care for “the uns,” he said: “the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated.”

I imagine a Catholic advocate phoning her Congressman four times in a given week, calling about various issues that the Catholic Church in the US is speaking up about. On Monday, she urges the representative to work toward the legal recognition of the unborn as human beings. On Tuesday, she asks him to protect social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid. On Wednesday, she voices opposition to physician-assisted suicide. On Thursday, she calls for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. And on Friday, the congressman’s receptionist wonders aloud, “What party does that woman belong to, anyway?”

If we truly let our faith inform our politics, then that’s the question people might be asking themselves about us.

3) Siding with those who are vulnerable is risky.

In Selma, King gives a sermon in response to the racially motivated murder of a teenager in the town. “Those who have gone before us say, No more! No more!” he says. “That means protest! That means march! That means disturb the peace! That means jail! That means risk! That is hard!”

I think of the hundreds of parishioners who gathered at Holy Cross on Sunday – many of whom, who, despite the risk of deportation, keep working to provide for their families and secure civil rights. I feel for the young pro-life marchers whose peers look at them with suspicion or condescension. Selma invited me to remember those in who were beaten and killed because of their race, and to lift up those who continue the ongoing hard work of racial reconciliation across the country.

After the March for Life, I made it to Lindenwold just in time for our diocesan Respect Life Mass, hosted at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Gospel passage selected for the Mass was Matthew’s Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,” Jesus tells his followers. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

As risky as faith can be, Christ reminds us that he is with us always. There’s no finer solace – and no finer call to action – than that.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.