Diocese holds rally to speak out against racism
As a response to the death of George Floyd and the emotional uproar that followed, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger along with representatives from Catholic Relief Services, the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities and Catholic Charities held a Speak Out Against Racism rally on June 16 in front of the Catholic Center from downtown Buffalo.
Floyd, a black Minneapolis man, died when a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, long after the man went limp.Deacon Don Weigel, diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services, who served as MC for the event, said that just not being racist ourselves is not enough, we must work against racism for the common good.
“We gather together in a peaceful and prayerful opportunity to stand up for justice and to speak out against racism,” Deacon Weigel said. “We gather in solidarity with all who are oppressed and have had their voices silenced by all types of violence. As we begin our prayer we must examine our own conscience for the times we have let racism take root in our conversations, in our lives, and in our nation through our own commission or omission of sin from doing what is right; not only the sin we have participated in, but the sin of those who have come before us, those inside the church and outside the church.”
Sister Mary McCarrick, OSF, the recently named chief operating officer of the Buffalo Diocese, led the crowd of over 50 priests, religious sisters and laity in a reading of the Beatitudes before introducing Bishop Scharfenberger.
“What we’re doing today is not just witnessing to injustices that we’re against, but also witnessing to the peace and the love that we are for,” the bishop said. “This is not just peace and love in some vague sense. It’s very, very personal because we know our salvation history – and this goes back to our Jewish roots – shows a God that constantly, constantly reaches out to human beings who are broken, who have sinned. But, God reacts not with resentment, not with fury, but with love, with healing. It is the same God that we are the sons and daughters of. There is a divine spark in each and every one of us, whether you can all see it or not.”
The bishop then asked in simple terms, “Are you good news or bad news?”
“I’m looking for the good news. I want to spread the good news. There’s a lot of bad news around. You may say, ‘Well, it’s hard to find.’ You know what the good news is? It comes in the passage that follows the Beatitudes. If you go to your Bible, right after that you’ll see Jesus is telling us, ‘You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.’ If salt loses its strength, it’s useless, it can’t do anything. You are the light of the world. You don’t hide a light under a bushel basket, but you set it on the table to give light to the world. So, what’s the message? First of all, accept being accepted. We’re not perfect. We’ve all done things that we’re embarrassed about or ashamed about. We can’t change the past, but we can change right now.”
The bishop pointed to a sign that said, “Change me first, Lord. Then let me be part of the change.”
The USCCB issued a pastoral letter against racism in 2018. “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” asks that the individual God-given rights of all people be respected.
“If we’re going to tackle institutional racism, we’re going to tackle the stereotypes that people are judged or valued or devalued because of their status,” the bishop continued. “It’s going to have to start from changing the human heart. Gandhi understood that very well. Dr. King understood that very well. Jesus lived His life by the way He reached out to every human being regardless of what their status was. As a matter of fact, most of the times He got in trouble was because of the people He hung out with. And who did Jesus hang out with? Us. A lot of sinners, a lot of imperfect people, a lot of people who did not have status, whether that was lepers, whether that was republicans, tax collectors or even prostitutes. Jesus did not see any human being as beneath God’s love. He did not see any human being as beneath the dignity of a son or daughter of God. That is the way we are called, each and every one of us, to act with justice is to treat each and every human being not only as an equal, but as a son or daughter of God.”
Cheryl Calire, diocesan director for Pro-Life Activities, now oversees the Office of Cultural Diversity, which offers outreach into African, African-American and Hispanic/Latino communities and migrant ministries. She lives in a multiethnic neighborhood and knows that “Love thy neighbor” is easier said than done, but must be done for the good of all.
“At the end of the day, when we love one another, we act out of love and charity. If we act out of love and charity, beautiful things not only happen to us, but they happen to the people who receive them. But it’s based on a very simple principle. It’s how we act and how we react to things that we disagree on,” she said.
Deacon Steve Schumer, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, offered a prayer to close out the rally.
“Lord Jesus, today as we are faced once again with the division and strife caused by the sin of racism, we join our voices to your voice and we pray that all of us become one – black and white, yellow and brown, young and old, near and far; that all of us feel as one – loved not feared, safe not insecure, valued not scorn, uplifted not beaten down; that all of us work as one, not to tear down but to build up, not only to stop violence, but also to promote justice, not only to restore order, but also to ensure justice; not to favor a few but to defend the dignity and rights of all. May we all be one. May we recognize all as one family.”
In a final gesture of solidarity, the group gathered pledged to be consciously inclusive of all individuals, affirm the gift of diversity, and promote understanding and mutual respect.