Civil Rights Trip by the Downtown Senior Clergy Group Will Provide Wisdom and Inspiration to Work for Justice
Since beginning my service as pastor of The Basilica of Saint Mary in July, one of the highlights has been getting to know fellow clergy from the various faith communities which make up the downtown senior clergy group. This interfaith group has been in existence for years and has collaborated on several important projects, initiatives, advocacy opportunities, and trips. One of the most significant collaborations has been to create The Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness – which is now called Align MPLS. The Basilica is a member and supporter of Align and its work is vital to help our brothers and sisters who experience homelessness or a lack of stable housing find housing, consistent with human dignity and a life of human flourishing.
For months the downtown senior clergy group has been planning a week-long civil rights tour in Georgia and Alabama – including following in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I initially did not think I could attend this trip as I normally begin teaching the week of the Dr. King national holiday. Happily, to my surprise, St. Thomas law school has moved its spring semester back a week which allows me to attend this important trip with my new downtown colleagues. I could not more grateful for this opportunity.
Our group will include a videographer to document our travel and experiences and we are planning three Sunday afternoon events this spring which will help unpack our experience and takeaways for the downtown faith communities of Minneapolis. We will begin our tour in Atlanta and will travel to Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, Alabama. Please keep our trip and all those involved in your prayers. I pray that the Spirit of God would guide our trip, the speakers and leaders we will encounter, and our common work for a more just and peaceful American society. Stay tuned for more information regarding these Sunday events. I will plan to send frequent posts to The Basilica community throughout our trip and hope to also preach about this experience in the coming weeks and months.
When I look at the important standing and positive reputation that The Basilica of Saint Mary enjoys in our community, it seems vital to me that The Basilica embraces a leadership role in the Twin Cities to help build a more justice, inclusive, and peaceful community. This will take much collaboration, intentionality, and the will to confront the persistent injustices and disparities which pertain to race in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. In order for communities of faith and our broader society to work together in building a more just society, we must confront with candor and courage present injustices and the current culture that fosters and perpetuates these injustices. This work is never easy and often flies in the face of the human instinct to obfuscate, sweep under the rug, or simply turn away from the reality of harm. From a Christian perspective, it would also seem that the effects of original sin play a role in this aversion to naming the origins and presence of harm. The reality of racial injustice is particularly stark in Minnesota as the State labors under some of the most acute racial disparities – across multiple categories – in the country.
In response to the persistent injustices experienced in the Twin Cities and nationally, I would offer two important sources to guide our collective reflection, which I hope will also spur action toward building a more just society for all. First, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” is a tour de force in its power, advocacy, persuasiveness, and in its use of multiple relevant sources, including Catholic sources, in the attempt to move white Christian moderates from a place of apathy to a place of resolute justice. In my opinion, it is simply one of the best and most important documents penned by any American. Dr. King’s method, among other things, employs the narrative experience of the effects of injustice – namely segregation – in the attempt to rouse those asleep with indifference to a greater understanding of injustice and attendant harm. I am reminded here of the recent event hosted by The Basilica – “Here I am Lord” which furthered learning through the experience of others – this learning and hopefully greater understanding took place through a keynote talk, a panel discussion, and healing circles.
Finally, the principles and vision of Catholic social teaching (CST) can also provide an important foundation for Catholics and other people of faith and good will to work for justice. CST is a great gift for the Church and an instrument to further justice, but it remains largely unknown or misunderstood. CST relies on several fundamental principles which help guide the Church and others as they evaluate current societal conditions and problems. Multiple principles of CST are relevant to the issue of racial injustice, including the dignity of the human person, the common good, and solidarity. The teaching of the United States Conference of Bishops – including the document “Open Wide Our Hearts” is also helpful for Catholics as we approach the important issue and history of race and justice in the United States. Thank you for your prayers for our upcoming civil rights trip and our collective efforts to work for greater justice in the Twin Cities, our nation, and beyond.