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What Can People of Faith Do to Help End Racism
Photo: Men in Worship
By Bishop Joseph N Perry

Nationality, race, ethnicity, language – these uniquely identifying human marks represent the imprint of a remarkably artistic and loving Creator upon each of us.   History has demonstrated that human beings have not worked well with these diverse imprints and their contribution to the weave of the human race. We continue to struggle to affect a universal recognition of the beauty of each one of us – white, black, brown and others.  The Christian message shows us how.

In the Gospels we find definite pattern in the life of Jesus where he broke through the popular biases and prejudices that plagued the society of his day.  Himself a Jew, He seems to show-off overt displays of friendship, interest in individual persons who were, for a variety of reasons, on the margins of society and religion or cast aside as inferior: Jesus called everyone to conversion of life: be they fellow Jews, Roman officials, Samaritans, gentiles, the wealthy, or other individuals whose lives were morally compromised.  In addition, the scourge of racism was alive and well in Jesus’ day and never more obvious than the plight of the Jews in Palestine. 

Jesus suffered the final fate of marginalized peoples under the tyranny of oppression – crucifixion, reserved for slaves, criminals, conquered peoples and other undesirables.  Biblical scholarship strongly suggests that Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry his cross to the hill of execution, was a black man forced into this role by Pilate’s troops who were ordered to carry out the death sentence that day.

Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan and His strong counsel to his disciples to love their enemies and care for the stranger regardless who they were are all formidable indications that Jesus showed no partiality and thus set the tone for the discipleship of his followers through a message that all people are called to salvation and be members of his Father’s kingdom.

These teachings and indications have challenged Christians these two millennia.  Needless to say, Church members have not always been representative of the preachments of the Master and Lord Jesus Christ.  In times such as our own it helps to re-visit the Gospels and the Lord’s counsel about neighborly regard in order to understand what it is we are called to do as Christians to overturn the racial problems of our day.  Insofar as we can implement Jesus’ teachings he insisted that we were lights in the world and salt of the earth; in other words, we are the seasoning of life’s experience toward the better.

How can Christians, particularly, Catholics reset the tone established for us by the Savior Jesus Christ?  How can we let the gospel redeem us from the social sins of indifference, prejudice, racial and ethnic profiling?

None of us can overturn present ills by ourselves; nor can any of this be done over-night.  And the task is all so daunting especially in face of opposition showing up here and there and some ugly stuff portrayed on the internet.  But, we can certainly impact our own little corners of the world for the better.  People ask me all the time what they can do and I take their question as a token of sincerity and I suggest some things, concrete steps, and practical actions:

{1} We might first reflect upon how we were raised vis-a-vis overt expressions or subtle references to the inferiority of certain people, usually, blacks, Latinos, Natives, Asians or others –messaging or remarks, profanities brought out into the open by parents, relatives, neighbors, co-workers and friends that spoke of exclusion of people because they were different or somehow deemed to be in the way.  Courageously examining our consciences regarding our thoughts, words and actions or inactions, we can determine where we may have picked up conscious or unconscious bias regarding peoples of color or other marginalized peoples from our home and formative environments, how has all this influenced my world-view and determined my assumptions laid against people.

Do I avoid the experience, the neighborhoods, the world-view of people of color? Do I see people of color a threat to me in any way?  Do I consider people different from me to be beneath me or in my way of opportunity?  Do I cross the street when a person of color is found walking toward me?  Do I find myself enmeshed in a posture of ‘ I could care less how people are treated as long as I can do what I want to do and gain what I want to gain?’  We are believers.  Our gestures and words should indicate that every man, woman and child has inherent dignity. Therefore, Christians that we are, it is everywhere necessary that we are in communion with one another.

{2} Arrange a safe space for your children or if you work with young people, to have them reflect and pray about racism and recent events.  Listen to the current experience of young people. What do they see happening in their schools with fellow students of different background, race or ethnicity?  How can they as young people be ambassadors of friendship and good will.  Encourage and allow their creative expression.  Young people have keen observations about right and wrong.  Invite them to come up with action steps that are meaningful to them.

{3} Encourage pastors to preach against racism and to take personal responsibility to eradicate subtle traces of it in the parish.  Explore how racism looks.  Study and understand racism as an endemic part of American society as it was manifested in the past and does so today. Read books and articles on the topic of race and its treatment in America and the challenges faced by people of color particularly those most marginalized; select one of the pastoral letters on racism issued by the US Catholic Bishops. There are about 10 of them issued since 1958.   Make yourself or your bible or study-group aware of the structural realities that exist in our societal systems and institutions that impact an individual’s ability to access resources that include well-funded school districts, quality and affordable health care, fair paying jobs, having banking, grocery stores and small businesses in their neighborhoods, and fair treatment in access to housing.

{4} Schedule diversity in your lives.  Who are the people you hang around with – are they mostly or entirely white.  Who makes up the friends of your children – are they mostly or entirely white.  How can human variety be found amidst your friends, co-workers, neighbors, your circle of friends and acquaintances? How can we dismantle our unconscious preferences for an exclusive white environment where we live, work, recreate and worship?

{5} Worship occasionally in a Catholic Church of a different ethnic group to imbibe a sense of the worth, the offerings of a people, the culture and beauty of a people.

{6} Select one of the many food-pantry ministries operated by our parishes and show up to help out, bringing your children along, to witness and be a part of vital ministry to the poor and hungry – the corporal works of mercy.

{7} Speak up when you hear about or witness a person, white, black or brown, Native or Asian being mistreated or treated unfairly.

What the Church is doing/can do


Our bishops have been strategic in dismantling exclusive white environments in our ministries, diocesan administrations, and liturgical ceremonies over a number of years now.  The visual presence of and participation by people of color is a necessary start.  This has taken a lot of energy, forethought and education and the admittance and correction of missteps.  This demonstration of the church’s variety at the diocesan level does not always trickle down to individual parishes largely by reason that parishes by and large mirror the segregation patterns of American neighborhoods. 

Mono-racial or single racial parishes are not ideal and do not reflect the Pentecost template noted at the church’s beginning, where in the Acts of the Apostles, a variety of peoples with different shaped noses, different colored eyes, different skin color, different languages were assembled that day in Jerusalem around the Christ-event and some remarkable things happened.  That racial and ethnic and linguistic variety that day signaled the start of the church as a universal community of people-variety, but unfortunately, we lost that template somewhere along the two millennia.

Single racial parishes and their schools arise from our opportune movements, by personal selection or some of us are condemned to a single-racial parish by where we are condemned to live.  To minister to this in the meantime, it helps to have parishes linked with each other for purposes of cross-racial and ethnic and cultural experience.  Often times, diocesan-wide liturgies are the first glimpse for some people of the actual racial and ethnic composition of the diocese to which they belong.  And this can be unnerving for some folks.

You might remember , there have been any number of articles and op-ed columns appearing in newspapers, magazines and journals at least since the 1980s hinting, predicting the ”browning” of America and what that portends for societal relations and social progress, etc.

The USCCB- Conference of US Catholic Bishops located in Washington DC is a racially diverse service organization of bishops, top level church leaders and experts working on the needs and ministries and social issues that mean most to the variety that is the Catholic Church in the United States. The bishops work by consensus on topics and issue pastoral letters, and other statements and set forth strategies punctuating the moment for the life and vitality of the Church in the United States.

Speaking for the Archdiocese of Chicago that I know best: back in the 1990s we had launched racial sensitivity workshops that traveled the diocesan agencies and school staffs that went on for several years.  Any number of bishops across the country have piloted similar education programs for personnel and staff and parishes.  In light of recent events, our Archbishop Cardinal Cupich of Chicago has ordered the creation of a curriculum on race to be included in our elementary and secondary schools.  We hope this makes a difference for the next generation of Catholics to hopefully do some things better than what we are doing now.

Our Catholic colleges and universities have been conspicuous in addressing these themes by way of guest speakers and alumni. More work needs to be done toward diversifying faculties and administration and student bodies.

On a grass-roots level, Catholic Charities continue s to attack head-on the problems of poverty across the country ministering to peoples’ needs with direct services as a hallmark of the Christian vocation.

Much has been accomplished; a lot more needs to be done at the local parish level particularly, and in our schools.

Thank you for reading. God bless you and your day.

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