The following reflection was presented by Bishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M. during a Holy Hour praying for racial justice and healing, at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on June 25, 2020.
In our current time, personal and institutional racism is being brought out into the light once again. People of color experience racism and are harmed by it. Racism is evil and a grave sin, a part of our present and past that we need to face, condemn and wipe out. We need to listen to those oppressed by it and who suffer from it, to learn from their experience, to repent of it, and commit to action for justice for all.
African-Americans and our fellow citizens drawn from every race and ethnicity have gathered in the thousands throughout the country to protest the unprovoked killing of George Floyd last month. For weeks, this outpouring of anger, grief and anguish has prompted a long-overdue moment of profound national soul-searching. That racism and structural injustice have been embedded in our society and its institutions from the beginning of this nation, and the destructive harm this hateful ideology continues to inflict on our black brothers and sisters has become undeniable by all people of good will.
African-Americans cry out in profound pain. They know from bitter experience that in our society their lives have not mattered as much as white lives, not only during the long night of slavery and Jim Crow but right up to the present day. The death of George Floyd and so many black men and women who have died like him is just the most egregious of the harms inflicted on them. And they rightly seek recognition that their lives matter; that they are significant, that they are important, that they are precious, that they are valued, that they are created in the image and likeness of God and deserve to be treated equally and fairly, with dignity and respect by everyone.
Despite laws outlawing legal segregation and guaranteeing the right to vote, racism continues to oppress African-Americans and people of color, from the daily indignities of hostility, suspicion, and contemptuous and demeaning slurs to sub-standard and underfunded schools, housing and employment discrimination, to mass-incarceration of young men, inadequate access to health care, and most recently a disproportionate death-rate due to the pandemic.
Each of us should be working to create a just society in which we have faced up to the structures of inequality, discrimination and racism and dismantle them forever. In our best moments as a nation – at the time of Emancipation, during Reconstruction, and in many of our own lifetimes, during the Civil Rights Era, we have worked together to make our nation worthy of its finest aspirations of liberty and justice for all.
Let us repent of the ways in which we have failed to live up to that ideal and work together to fulfill our nation’s founding premise, that all people are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with these self-evident rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:26, If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
We are presented with the call to change, to transform, and thereby move towards a deeper conversion to Christ as we truly learn to love our neighbor.
You can watch a recording of the Holy Hour for racial justice and healing led by Bishop Bellisario at https://vimeo.com/432342812.