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The Basilica offered various iterations of committees to address racism, over the past few decades. But if we are honest, they were initiatives that sat on the margins of our parish life. Without intentional malice, they allowed our community to remain comfortable, while offering opportunities to learn about racial diversity.
In 2018, The Basilica prayerfully embraced a new strategic plan. This plan identified inclusivity as a core commitment for our whole parish—crossing all ministries, penetrating all communications for volunteers, donors and community partners. With prophetic courage, this strategic direction responded to the signs of our times. It compelled us to begin anew, our commitment to address racism.
Racism is a reality with deep roots and wide misunderstanding. Fr. Bryan Massingale, in his book Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, frames the discussion with important definitions. He clarifies that “racism is a cultural phenomenon, that is, a way of interpreting human color differences that pervades the collective convictions, conventions, and practices of American life.” He importantly emphasizes that while “the commonsense understanding discusses racism as personal acts of rudeness, hostility or discrimination,” the focus on individual behaviors and attitudes misses the crucial and fundamental reality of racism as “a communal and learned frame of reference that shapes identity, consciousness, and behavior—the way a social group understands its place and worth.”
American anthropologist Edward T. Hall explains: “Culture is the logic by which I have learned to give order to the world. And I have been learning this logic little by little since the moment I was born… I learned to breathe this logic and forget that I learned it—I find it natural.”
We are called to see the implications of living in a country founded with the legal institution of human chattel slavery and all the underlying spoken and unspoken assumptions this rested on. Even after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, threads of slavery remained.
Sitting with a twenty-first century heart and mind, it is tempting to soothe my discomfort and simply claim: This is no longer relevant. Slavery is gone. I yearn to claim to be beyond the cultural pull of racism. But facing the reality of centuries of oppression and generations of persecution, we see racism cannot be healed by denial or “just moving on.”
Healing requires deep, community-wide acknowledgement of ways this fundamental and sinful paradigm gives order to our world, even today. We are called to recognize our complicity in enabling racism to persist: In 2021, can we reconcile the dissonance of living in Minnesota, with some of the highest racial disparities in the nation, despite being ranked one of the best places to live?
The Basilica is committed to wrestle with, expose and eliminate racism in our community. It is hard work we must do together. It calls the white community to take a lead in anti-racism work, along with the discomfort this brings, and provide healing spaces for our brothers and sisters of color.
The Basilica has commissioned an Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity Leadership Team. With parish leadership, it has identified core goals to work on together. We need your partnership and help to work on these goals and to grow together. Look for ways to engage at mary.org/edi. Come Holy Spirit; give us strength, courage, and guidance for this journey.
I was an acolyte/altar server at the 11:30am Mass for over 20 years before The Basilica paused that ministry (and many others) due to COVID-19. Returning to that in-person ministry for the first time since Spring 2020 a few weeks ago, I felt a bit nervous and arrived extra early to thoughtfully and calmly prepare for active ministry. Slowly and reverently I opened the alb closet, found an alb in my size, picked up a processional cross, and proceeded to the rear of the nave by the baptismal font.
My thoughts began to race as I waited for Mass to begin. I hadn’t been in the “second chair” for about 16 months! Would I forget to do something? And now the Mass is livestreamed—so be careful going up the steps!
As my anxiety grew, I found comfort in seeing the familiar faces of liturgical ministers, musicians, staff members, and the congregation, with many people in their preferred pew location. Then Father Gillespie, who has faithfully presided at Basilica Masses for many years, quietly said “It’s good to be back and serving with you.” Perhaps he could tell that I was a little nervous? The familiarity of serving at past 11:30am Masses flooded back; I immediately felt calmer and ready to engage in volunteer ministry again.
This week’s responsorial psalm reminds us, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; God answers all our needs.” What an important message as we emerge from the shadows of a global pandemic. While many of our worries remain—about resurgence, new variants, civil unrest, and how to re-engage with others in a post-COVID “new normal”—being back at The Basilica is a comforting and familiar reminder that God feeds us, comforts us, and responds to our needs every day. We should turn to God and to our parish community to guide us from darker times to our future full of hope.
The Basilica offers about 120 different volunteer ministries and opportunities in a wide variety of areas. Many of them have openings now with both in-person and virtual options. Even more opportunities will open as programs restart this Fall. Many of the current volunteer openings are listed in this printed newsletter or are listed on mary.org. I hope you will consider sharing your time and talent with The Basilica and I am happy to help you find a ministry suited to your interests, skills, and availability.
Like the five barley loaves and two fish from today’s Gospel, when we share faithfully with others, it miraculously and abundantly grows. What we have to share is more than enough.