A message from Charlene Howard, chair, National Council, Pax Christi USA

During the first three weeks of June, leading up to Juneteenth, Pax Christi USA will share weekly reflections from African American peacemakers in our movement. Juneteenth, June 19, is African American Emancipation Day (observed this year as a legal holiday on Monday, June 20).

This series, The Color of Peace, shares the unique experiences, stories, and witness for peace of African American leaders in Pax Christi USA to enlighten and encourage us all to the impact of our much needed work. These important messages are “threads of peace” in the multihued human tapestry of peace we are building in our 50th year. 

I invite you to join us in reading and journeying with these peacemakers through their personal accounts shared every Thursday through June 16.

A reflection for June 16 from Charlene Howard:

Reflections for June 9:

Ambassador of Peace Isaac Chandler shares how he was invited to join Pax Christi and why he stays involved.

A reflection from Vicki Vernon Lott, member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team and former member of the Pax Christi USA National Council

Vicki Lott

For a bit of background: As a cradle Catholic whose father, Kenneth Vernon, was the first Black permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and whose cousin, Bishop Leonard Olivier, was auxiliary bishop in the Washington, D.C. archdiocese, I was steeped in Catholicism through high school, and even somewhat during undergraduate school at St. Norbert. Then I moved to Baton Rouge for graduate school at LSU, followed by 30+ years in higher education administration at several Historically Black colleges and universities. 

While my career serving mostly first generation Black college students was extremely rewarding, I experienced numerous micro aggressions and unwelcoming atmospheres at a number of predominantly White Catholic churches in several cities. That left me disillusioned, jaded, and even cynical about Catholicism.  

Then, at the urging of my cousin the bishop while I was living in Jackson, TN, I attended the 2007 National Black Catholic Congress in Buffalo where I was re-energized by hundreds of kindred spirits. I became a trained facilitator in Racial Sobriety with Fr. Clarence Williams, and was subsequently invited by Pax Christi Memphis to train a number of their members. That was my introduction to Pax Christi, and I was impressed by their willingness, nearly 15 years ago, to sit with their discomfort while discussing the difficult subject of racism.

After moving to Austin in 2011 and becoming co-chair of the Social Justice Ministry at Holy Cross, we began holding courageous monthly conversations about racial justice after 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. We invited folks from other parishes, and several members of Pax Christi Austin, who became regular attendees, invited me to join their group, and I did. 

The leader of Pax Christi Texas recommended that I attend a PCUSA racial equity training in Washington D.C., where I met Sr. Patty Chappell, who later nominated me to serve on the Pax Christi Anti Racism Team (PCART).

I think that PCART is a viable vehicle to amplify PCUSA’s commitment to anti-racism. It’s a challenging undertaking in a church with a Eurocentric colonial mindset, but my faith-based roots remind me of songs like, “On the Battlefield for My Lord,” and Scripture passages like Luke 12:48 – “To her whom much is given, much is required.”

Pax Christi USA is committed to anti-racism, and provides opportunities at local and national levels for those involved to be vocal witnesses for racial justice and models of the true Peace of Christ.

Reflections for June 2:

Msgr. Ray East, 2005 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace, gives a strong testimonial in support of Pax Christi USA

A reflection from Donna Grimes, Ambassador of Peace and former member of the Pax Christi USA National Council

Jean Stokan introduced me to Pax Christi. We were in a Catholic social teaching collaborative representing a handful of committed organizations with similar missions – the alphabet soup of Catholic Social Teaching education and action in the Catholic Church. Our efforts bore more fruit than I can enumerate here. This includes my immersion into the Church’s peace with justice movement.

Our group met monthly at the aptly named Center of Concern. For years we gathered over fruit, muffins and hot beverages not to promote our own organizations’ programs, but to advance the Good News through the cooperative power of the Holy Spirit animated by the “two feet of love in action.” I found my spiritual home in those days and Jean became a lasting friend. She remains a role model for me in her quiet, poetic way.

While on the national advisory board, I discovered pathways for Black/African American Catholics like me to engage the peace with justice movement. Honestly, it was PCUSA’s commitment “to become an anti-racist Catholic organization in 35 years” that sealed it for me. Up to that point I was unaware of any Catholic entity pledging such. Pax Christi made a place at the table for melanated brothers and sisters with shared values. I was hopeful. Likewise, I am deeply inspired by the vision of the beloved community, the Kin-dom of God which I now think of as intercultural friendship. This is why I stay.

What a blessing to introduce some of my sister friends and a young adult to Pax Christi. I watched them plunge in and bring others along. Despite push-back from longtime members, who perceived the anti-racism work as sidelining the mission, the People of Color lens is vital for the survival and authenticity of this work. At one national meeting I sat in with a regional group from the Richmond area. “The South will rise again,” a regional leader said to me as we passed in transition. Yet, the commitment continues. PCART, caucusing, I appreciate that. I knew this promise would mean hard work. Seems like I’ve been on a long and windy journey. And the adventure continues.

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