In November 2018, the U.S. Catholic Bishops published a pastoral letter entitled Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—a Pastoral Letter Against Racism. Amid competing crises and issues demanding attention, the bishops of the Catholic Church rose to the occasion to address racism, “one particularly destructive and persistent form of evil.” Acknowledging that strides have been made in our country, they state, “racism still infects our nation.”
The issue of racism is understood in different ways. Here, in this call to healing, the U.S. Bishops explain, “Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful… Every racist act…is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God.”
Racism takes many different forms. “It can be seen in deliberate, sinful acts. In recent times, we have seen bold expressions of racism by groups as well as individuals.” It can be experienced “in the form of the sin of omission when individuals, communities and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered.” Racism can “be found in our hearts—in many cases placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture.” “Racism can also be institutional, when practices or traditions are upheld that treat certain groups of people unjustly. The cumulative effects of personal sins of racism have led to social structures of injustice and violence that make us all accomplices in racism.”
Despite previous work on racism, the Bishops state, “racism still profoundly affects our culture…. This evil causes great harm to its victims, and it corrupts the souls of those who harbor racist or prejudicial thoughts… People are still being harmed, so action is needed.”
Conversion: The Bishops proclaim, “What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change, and reform our institutions and society. …All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion. Our churches and our civic and social institutions are in need of ongoing reform.”
The challenges inherent in this conversion seem daunting. Yet our faith reminds us that God’s love is a reconciling love. God’s love is a forgiving love. God’s love is a saving love. Indeed, God’s love can help us press forward despite fear and division.
We Commit Ourselves to the Following Steps:
To move forward, the Bishops commit to specific actions. We are invited to join them—inviting the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and communities.
These actions include:
- Acknowledging Sins: as individuals and as communities, we are all asked to humbly and honestly see and acknowledge our sinful deeds and thoughts and ask for forgiveness.
- Being Open to Encounter and New Relationships: we are invited to “engage the world and encounter others—to see, maybe for the first time, those who are on the peripheries of our own limited view.”
- Resolving to Work for Justice: both nationally and locally, love should move us to “examine where society continues to fail our brothers and sisters, or where it perpetuates inequity” and to take concrete actions to address those problems.
- Educating Ourselves: We are all challenged to learn more and to hear life-stories that “will help open our minds and hearts more fully and continue the healing needed in our communities and nation.”
- Working in Our Churches: We commit to working within the Church to root out vestiges of racist experience and celebrate the great cultural diversity of the Church. The Bishops recognize the unique role each person must play—including the important voice of Bishops and priests.
- Changing Structures: “The roots of racism have extended deeply into the soil of our society. Racism can only end if we contend with the policies and institutional barriers that perpetuate and preserve the inequality—economic and social—that we still see all around us. With renewed vigor, we call on the members of the Body of Christ to join others in advocating and promoting policies at all levels that will combat racism and its effects in our civic and social institutions.”
- Conversion of All: “Prayer and working toward conversion must be our first response in the face of evil actions.”
- Our Commitment to Life: “The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life.” Indeed, the Bishops “unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”
As Catholic Christians, we begin and end with wrestling with the incredible love of God. Our Bishops urge us: “Love compels each of us to resist racism courageously. It requires us to reach out generously to the victims of this evil, to assist the conversion needed in those who still harbor racism, and to begin to change policies and structures that allow racism to persist.” Indeed, love “is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”
The Basilica is committed to this work. Look for ways to engage in a partnership with Penumbra Theater in early Spring. For more information, call Janice at 612.317.3477.