by Bishop Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.
(NOTE: The following is a pastoral letter written by Bishop Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois. It is a follow-up to his ground-breaking letter from 2015, “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015.”)
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
(2) When I was a senior at Quigley Preparatory Seminary studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago, I was the only Person of Color in my class of several hundred seminarians. A group of us saw the film version of the late Harper Lee’s brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It is the story of Tom Robinson set in Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression. Tom, an upright and honest, innocent Black man is falsely accused of sexually assaulting a White woman. He is defended by an equally upright and honest White attorney, Atticus Finch. Predictably, the all-White jury finds Tom “guilty,” though he is, in fact, innocent and he is killed while “attempting to run from the police” during the appeal process. Tom Robinson’s family is devastated by the murder and Atticus is angered by the miscarriage of justice born of racial prejudice. In our discussion after this extraordinary film, one of my classmates said his father had taught him that “all you need to know about the relationship between people of different races is this: ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ This is simply the law of nature. This is why the Archdiocese of Chicago has Polish parishes, Irish parishes, German parishes, Italian Parishes, and Black parishes. People of similar backgrounds want to live, work, and worship with their own kind! It has always been this way and it always 5 will be. It’s that simple: birds of a feather flock together.” He said nothing about the death of Tom Robinson, as if his life did not matter. I have never forgotten that conversation.
(3) I did not write about the Black Lives Matter Movement in my Pastoral Letter, “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015.” At that time, the movement had not yet attained the high visibility and considerable influence that it has today. Readers of this reflection would benefit from having an awareness of the main themes addressed in my 2015 Pastoral. That Letter is an invitation to readers, inviting them:
- To imagine how African-Americans experience the Catholic Church which almost always uses European-based religious art depicting God, Jesus, Mary, the saints and angels as White and almost never depicting them as African, Asian, or Hispanic;
- To allow the new awareness of the racial divide to move Catholics to think about the way the followers of Jesus Christ should speak and act in the face of the racial divide;
- To come face-to-face with accounts of the events surrounding the deaths of numerous African-American men in altercations with White law enforcement agents and the international protests that followed;
- To review the Catholic Church’s teachings (“Brothers and Sisters to Us,” “What We have Seen and Heard”) concerning the racial divide in America;
- To discontinue the Church’s common practice of referring to People of Color with biased terms like “minorities,” “minority” Americans and “minority” Catholics, since all are Americans and all are Catholics;
- To refer to people as who they are rather than who they are not (e.g., African-Americans, not “a minority group,” or Baptists, not “non-Catholics”);
- To commit themselves to praying, listening, learning, thinking, and acting in ways that will help to bridge the racial divide…