My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we have seemingly come to a slowdown of the coronavirus pandemic, in the last ten days, we have experienced a more terrible type of virus in that of racism that seems to have made itself visible among us. The horrible death of George Floyd at the hands of one policeman with others standing by has opened a wound in our society, pointing to deeper inequalities that people of color and other minorities must bear.
The protests, unfortunately, have been marred by some who have purposely attempted to create anarchy in our society. Nothing is to be gained by this type of purposeful violence, and everything can be lost. The understanding of what the issues truly are can disappear amid fear and recriminations. We must understand that societal change on the evil of racism must happen, and perhaps more rapidly than we realized in the past
Preaching at Santo Spirito in Sassia, in Rome, on Divine Mercy Sunday, Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, perhaps spoke prophetically when he talked about the recovery period for the pandemic when he said, “Now, while we are thinking of a slow and tiring recovery from the pandemic, this danger insinuates itself: to forget who is left behind.
The risk is that we are struck by an even worse virus, that of indifferent selfishness. It is transmitted starting from the idea that life improves if it is better for me, that everything will be fine if it is good for me. We start from here and we get to select people, to discard the poor, to sacrifice those who are behind on the altar of progress. What is happening is shaking us up: it is time to remove inequalities, to heal injustice which undermines the health of all humanity!”
These truly are prophetic words from our Holy Father, understanding the evil of radical inequality that seems to haunt us. Two years ago, in response to the situation in Charlottesville, which was another incident that reminds us of the societal problem of racism, I established the Commission on Racism and Social Justice in our own diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens to study the problem of racism within the Church. I named Bishop Neil Tiedemann, C.P., Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, as chair of the commission, and Father Alonzo Cox to serve as secretary of the commission.
The commission worked for almost one year and came up with some good results, which we now will implement. We cannot solve the problems with society in this regard if we do not recognize the effect that racism has within our own Church. After many meetings held throughout Brooklyn and Queens, the report gives us a list of felt grievances that we will address in a systematic way.
To make people of color feel that they are welcome in the Church and to feel that they have equality with others is the task before us. I think especially of how we must educate our youth. Racism is a learned behavior. People are not born as racists. Racism is learned in different ways. Even if it is not taught specifically, it is picked up by attitudes, feelings, and words. We need to work, especially in our Catholic schools, where we have some influence, to make sure that our young people do not pick up on the racist attitudes of the past.
The demonstrations we see today truly are not just attended by people of color, but also by many others. Perhaps the tide has already turned, and our young people do not see things the way that they were seen in the past. At the November 2018 General Meeting, the Bishops of the United States issued a pastoral letter on racism entitled, “Open Wide Our Hearts, the enduring call to love …a pastoral letter against racism.” http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/upload/open-wide-our-hearts.pdf
In it, we hear that “Racism is a false world view that contradicts our Christian belief and the universality of God’s love and the concern for the dignity of every human person. It is a denial of our bonds as brothers and sisters with the one human family called to share the life of God.” How important it is that we see the issue before us as one that has deep moral and religious roots. We cannot solve the problem of racism unless we understand our common fraternity and our common bonds which come to us from the Creator. It is never easy to recognize evil. And yet, we must identify it and work against evil where it exists.
Recently, we have seen some signs of solidarity, even with our police who joined those who are protesting peacefully. Some have bent on one knee to show their solidarity. Perhaps it is important that we bend two knees and pray that we do find a way from this quandary in which we find ourselves. Only with God’s grace will we be able to find the courage we need to change our attitudes and our hearts, and to teach those around us what God’s word truly means.
We truly put out into the deep recesses of our human nature as we combat prejudices that seem to be part and parcel of our American society, as great as it is. We still cannot seem to shake the prejudices that keep others from making progress as they should. Join with me in prayer on two knees, and, surely, we will all make a difference against the evil of racism.