The protests across the nation make clear the injustice of George Floyd’s killing, and its roots in a long national history of racism, including contemporary patterns of police brutality.
Catholics cannot be content to stand on the sidelines of this struggle. In the face of racism, Catholics must hunger for justice as we hunger for the Eucharist. The Gospel calls us, as we prepare for Communion, to “go first and be reconciled” (Matthew 5:24) with our sisters and brothers. . . . . [P]erhaps the Holy Spirit is moving, in these days of Pentecost, to give us the strength to stay the course and work for lasting change. Catholics should be held to account six months from now and a year from now — and for our part at America, we ask to be — for what actions we have taken in response.
Here are five ways to begin.
Repentance: The church in the United States has been sadly complicit in the systemic injustices of white racism. (As a Jesuit publication, we must acknowledge our own part in this history: American Jesuits and their institutions owned and sometimes sold enslaved people until 1838.) White Catholics have often ignored and marginalised the voices of Catholics of colour calling for the Church to listen and respond to the needs of their communities.
Catholic institutions have only just begun to acknowledge our part in the history of American racism, from slavery to Jim Crow, from housing segregation to police brutality. This work of memory must continue, it must be public and it must not shrink from hard truths. In order to be the body of Christ, the Church must share in both the suffering and the repentance of all its members.
Solidarity: Catholics do not need to invent new ways to fight racism. There is plenty of work already being done for racial justice. Yet many Catholics seem too timid to listen and collaborate with new movements, such as Black Lives Matter, that are leading today’s charge for justice. Bishops, pastors and lay leaders ought to make overtures to anti-racist activist groups present in their communities. In addition to showing solidarity in the work of organising, Catholics also can show economic solidarity by supporting black-owned businesses in their own communities, and through giving alms to organisations working for racial justice, and ministries directly serving black Catholics.
Presence: A previous generation of clergy and religious left us with iconic images of Catholics marching hand in hand with prominent civil rights leaders. Today, when images and videos of protests are shared more quickly and widely than ever, collars and habits have been sparse. Catholics, especially those whose presence and dress visibly symbolises the church, ought to attend protests in order to demonstrate the Church’s commitment.
Formation: To ensure deep, lasting change, Catholics will need to examine the ways we form consciences, especially in the work of education. Those in charge of institutions of formation, from seminaries to grammar schools, should examine curricula to see how the history and present reality of racism are addressed. Students formed by Catholic education should recognise racism both as an intrinsic evil and as a primary manifestation of social sin. The ability both to assess curricula and to educate students regarding these issues necessarily involves the presence of people of colour in positions of responsibility and authority.
Prayer: Prayer is one of the most effective modes of public witness Catholics possess. Catholics are united for various causes by novenas, processions, rosary campaigns and holy hours. It is no accident that these spiritual means, depending more on the grace of God than our own strength, bind us together and announce the Gospel of mercy and justice more effectively than proclamations of moral principles can alone. Catholic groups, starting with the bishops and national organising networks, and continuing down to the local parish, should promote a campaign of prayer for healing from the sins of racism.
— Excerpts from an unsigned editorial (June 1) on the website of America magazine (Jesuit). (CNS)