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Justice Perspective

What is your role in creating a racially just Church?

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We have just finished recognizing Black History Month, and like many others, I took the opportunity to read and learn about not just “history,” but the effects that our American experience of race relations has had on me and others. I read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo which outlined in detail why it is so hard for white people to talk about race and racism. Another really informative book was “Growing up White” by Debby Irving which shared her experience of coming to a consciousness of race and racism that she had not thought about until she came face-to-face with her privilege.

Both of those books helped to give me an understanding of where we are currently as a result of the Black history in America. But the book that really had the most impact on me was “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” by Father Bryan Massingale. While not a new book, having been published in 2010, its topics and messages were just as relevant – perhaps more so – than 10 years ago. Father Massingale tells the story of racial justice – and especially injustice – within the U.S. Catholic Church.

The pivotal question he asks is, “We all are wounded by the sin of racism … How can we struggle together against an evil that harms us all?” While his comments were direct and critical, I was struck by his obviously deeply-held belief that the Catholic Church does have the resources and the gifts to dismantle the sin of racism – if only its members had the drive, the passion, and the focus to do so.

Do we? Do we have that passion to address this heinous stain that remains not only on our country but our Church? Pope Benedict has said that the Church “cannot and must not sit on the sidelines in the struggle for justice” and that we must hunger for justice as we hunger for the Eucharist. Do we?

It seems obvious, based on the lack of widespread efforts in the struggle for racial justice in our diocese, that we are far from having that hunger, that passion for seeking justice and creating a racially just Church. What is keeping us from feeling that hunger for racial justice? What is standing in the way of taking the necessary steps toward building a Church that more closely resembles the Kingdom of God?

I have been privileged to be a relatively recent member of a group of Black and white Catholics known as #OneBody that was formed a number of years ago in response to the increased tension that came as a result of the persistent killing of Black men. The goal of this virtuous gathering is “racial healing, one heart and one mind at a time,” and our conversations are open self-revelations designed to help each of us understand the other. Through this honest and thoughtful sharing, we have all been enriched and have been able to listen openly to one another’s perspectives and experiences, and each of us has been impacted and, in many cases, transformed by the experience.

Racial healing must be based on a commitment to “truth and reconciliation.” The truth of our history needs to be acknowledged, especially identifying how that history influences our situation today. And reconciliation can only come about as wounds are healed, relationships are built, and communities are enriched. If we are serious about transforming the systems and structures, we have to do the “people work” first.

So, how can we struggle together against an evil that harms us all? What is your role in creating a racially just Church? Perhaps it lies in joining in the #OneBody group to listen to the experiences of others and allow ourselves to be transformed. If you are ready to take the next step toward racial healing, please let me know.

Deacon Don Weigel is the diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services and can be reached at deacondon@gmail.com.

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