by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Gathering here in the city of St. Louis, so near to Ferguson, and looking ahead to Baltimore in November, I cannot help but think of recent events that have taken place around our beloved country. We mourn those tragic events in which African Americans and others have lost their lives in altercations with law enforcement officials. These deaths have led to peaceful demonstrations, as well as violent conflicts in the streets of our cities. In every instance, our prayer for every community is that of our Lord in Saint John’s Gospel, “that they all may be one.”
Sadly, there is all too often an alienation of communities from those sworn to protect them. I respect the sacrifices made by police officers throughout the nation, who in their daily work are placed in harm’s way. Let us pray that they suffer no harm as they carry out their duties, and that they always be guided in good and right action as they serve.
We join our voices with civic and religious leaders in pledging to work for healing and reconciliation. Our efforts must address root causes of these conflicts. A violent, sorrowful history of racial injustice, accompanied by a lack of educational, employment and housing opportunities, has destroyed communities and broken down families, especially those who live in distressed urban communities. Confronted by these realities, the familiar words of Blessed Pope Paul VI still resonate and continue to call us to action in our day: if you want peace, work for justice.
The Church has been present in these communities, active in education, health care and charities. Positive efforts are being made in collaboration with ecumenical and interfaith groups in communities where confrontations between individual citizens and law enforcement have taken place. Pope Francis calls each of us to work for a culture of encounter and has encouraged all people of good faith to reach out to those in their community and be truly welcoming of all. Let the rich cultural diversity of our local communities be woven together in charity, hospitality and service to one another, to join us together as sisters and brothers.
The 1979 U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter, “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” named racial prejudice as a grave sin that denies the truth and meaning of the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the words of that letter still ring true: “Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church.” The bishops called for decisive action to eradicate racism from society and considerable progress has been made since 1979. However, more must be done. Let us again call upon our Catholic people to pray frequently in their homes and in their churches for the cause of peace and racial reconciliation.
Here we are in St. Louis where, in 1947, Cardinal Joseph Ritter integrated Catholic schools well before the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. It shows that the Catholic Church can be at the forefront of promoting justice in racial tensions. It is time for us to do it again. I suggest five concrete ways in which the Catholic community can commit to ending racism and promoting peace, justice and respect for all persons:
- Pray for peace and healing among all people.
- Study the Word of God and the social teaching of the Church in order to gain a deeper appreciation of the dignity of all persons.
- Make a sincere effort to encounter more fully people of different racial backgrounds with whom we live, work and minister.
- Pursue ways in which Catholic parishes and neighborhoods can be truly welcoming of families of different racial and religious backgrounds.
- Get to know our local law enforcement officers. Let them know of our support and gratitude. And encourage young people to respect all legitimate authority.
Sadly, the present racial tension in the United States is not something new. It is the most recent manifestation of a relationship as old as the history of our nation, one marred by the tragedy of human slavery. Promoting peace and reconciliation is the only way forward. And we must constantly strive to achieve these goals, trusting in the Lord to lead and guide us, accompanied by his merciful love. May He help all of us to recognize the dignity inherent in every human being, for God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.”