November 8, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Pastoral letter reminds us sin of racism must be eliminated

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“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. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love” (Mt 22:39; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” a pastoral letter against racism).

A year ago, we bishops of the United States issued a pastoral letter against racism titled, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.” Although our conference has spoken out against racism in the past, we believed that the increasing incidents of violence and injustice in our nation warranted a renewed commitment on our part to call attention to the evils of racist thought, speech and actions.

According to our pastoral letter, “Racism occurs because a person ignores the fundamental truth that, because all humans share a common origin, they are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God. When this truth is ignored, the consequence is prejudice and fear of the other, and—all too often—hatred.”

This fundamental truth—that all are made in God’s image and, therefore, all are equal in the sight of God—grounds all Catholic social teaching. Racist attitudes and actions violate human dignity and are deeply offensive to God and to all our sisters and brothers in the human family.

“Racism comes in many forms,” our pastoral letter observes:

“It can be seen in deliberate, sinful acts. In recent times, we have seen bold expressions of racism by groups as well as individuals. The re-appearance of symbols of hatred, such as nooses and swastikas in public spaces, is a tragic indicator of rising racial and ethnic animus.

“All too often, Hispanics and African-Americans, for example, face discrimination in hiring, housing, educational opportunities, and incarceration. Racial profiling frequently targets Hispanics for selective immigration enforcement practices, and African-Americans, for suspected criminal activity.

“There is also the growing fear and harassment of persons from majority Muslim countries. Extreme nationalist ideologies are feeding the American public discourse with xenophobic rhetoric that instigates fear against foreigners, immigrants, and refugees. Finally, too often racism comes 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.

“Historically, many groups, such as the Irish, Italians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Poles, Jews, Chinese, and Japanese have been subjected to racial and ethnic prejudice in our country. Many groups are still experiencing prejudice, including rising anti-Semitism, the discrimination many Hispanics face today, and anti-Muslim sentiment. Especially significant are the experiences of Native and African-American communities which suffered from terrible, systematic abuses in the past and whose effects continue to cause widespread suffering today.”

What can we do to overcome the evil of racism and to ensure that the positive steps we take are not eroded over time by a return to racist attitudes and actions? As we write in “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love”:

“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. Overcoming racism is a demand of justice, but because Christian love transcends justice, the end of racism will mean that our community will bear fruit beyond simply the fair treatment of all.”

When each man, woman and child is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, a whole host of cultural, economic and political problems will be solved. No longer will individuals or groups feel the need to inflate their egos by condescending or abusive attitudes and behaviors. The results will include stronger families, communities that are at peace with their neighbors, and a nation that is healthy and prosperous.

Racism—whether subtle or blatant—is a poison that we cannot tolerate. Our Lord challenges us to refrain from judging one another, to love everyone and to treat one another as we would want to be treated.

Let’s pray that the grace of Christ will give us the courage to acknowledge the sin of racism that is inside us and all around us. Let’s work hard to eliminate racism wherever it exists today and to prevent it from returning in the days ahead. †

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