September 18, 2020

In Mass for Peace and Justice, Archbishop Thompson says ‘it all begins in the heart’

Rose Ruiz, left, and Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy Sister Loretto Emenogu sing during a Mass for Peace and Justice celebrated on Sept. 9 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Rose Ruiz, left, and Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy Sister Loretto Emenogu sing during a Mass for Peace and Justice celebrated on Sept. 9 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

The date was May 30, 1627. A group led by Jesuit Father Peter Claver hurried toward the most recent slave ship that had arrived in Columbia, South America, from Africa.

As the slaves disembarked, the priest and his helpers sought out the sick, who had been placed on a pile of tile and bricks—“their couch, a very uncomfortable one … especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them,” he wrote in a letter the next day.

First they bathed, clothed and treated the ill and dying Africans. Then, “not with words but with our hands and actions,” Father Peter and his companions evangelized them.

The letter he wrote 393 years ago was read aloud in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis by archdiocesan Black Catholic Ministry coordinator Pearlette Springer on Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver, before a special Mass for Peace and Justice. (Watch the Mass here)

“How appropriate that we gather on the memorial of St. Peter Claver, the patron saint of African Americans and enslaved peoples, to celebrate Mass in promotion of peace and justice, as well as in reparation for sins based upon race,” said Archbishop Charles C. Thompson during his homily. He was the principal celebrant of the Mass, with 12 priests of the archdiocese concelebrating.

Similar Masses were held around the country in solidarity with the call by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for “a day of fasting and prayer” on Sept. 9.

(Related: Two opportunities to pray for peace set for Sept. 24 and 26)

“These last several months have been marked by protests, social unrest and outcries demanding justice for people of color, especially African Americans, who have experienced oppression, violence and inequality,” Archbishop Thompson noted. “Though progress is being made, we still have a long way to go as a nation as well as a community of believers.”

‘To disregard another … is to disregard Christ’

During the homily, he quoted from the USCCB’s 2018 document, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—A Pastoral Letter Against Racism”:

“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 consequences are prejudice and fear of the other, and—all too often—hatred. … Every racist act—every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity, or place of origin—is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister in the image of God.”

Advocating for the sacredness of all life is essential for a “right relationship with God and neighbor,” Archbishop Thompson noted. And the best way to advocate for life, he said, is to follow the principles of Catholic social teaching.

Primary among those principles is “respect for the dignity of each and every human person—regardless of race, sex, nationality, economic or social status, educational background, political affiliation or sexual orientation—as created in the image and likeness of God. All are equal in dignity,” said the archbishop, quoting from his 2018 pastoral letter, “We Are One in Christ.”

From this key principle, he said, “flows the Church’s condemnation of all forms of racisms as sinful. There is no place for unjust discrimination, unfair treatment, prejudice, violence and inequality within this framework of these principles for us as Catholics.”

While “all are equal in dignity,” the world is filled with different cultures, ethnicities and languages. Thus, said Archbishop Thompson, “To disregard another person because of some ethnic, cultural or racial difference is to disregard the person of Jesus Christ.”

To break down the “barriers of fear, distrust, misunderstanding, resentment and hatred,” he said, Catholics must do as Pope Francis has encouraged: “Accompany, dialogue and encounter with one another in the name and person of Jesus Christ.”

‘Rooted in the heart’

Church teaching on social justice is biblically based, the archbishop stated. Referring to the day’s Scripture readings, he noted that, in the first reading from Isaiah 58:6-11, the prophet “exhorts us to act on behalf of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the hungry, the homeless, the naked and those bound unjustly.

“In our Scripture passage from the Gospel of Matthew [Mt 25:31-40], Jesus stipulates that what we do or fail to do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do or fail to do to him. Virtue as well as sin may be realized in acts of commission and omission in our relations with one another.”

In closing his homily, Archbishop Thompson cited several ways “to bring about systematic change in non-violent ways amid social unrest and injustice: pray, advocate, vote, peacefully march, encourage, study and witness to the good news of God’s kingdom at hand.

“Let us continue to draw on the word of God and grace of [the] sacraments in service of living in right relationship with God and neighbor as both faithful members of the Church and faithful citizens of society.

“Whether virtue or sin, it all begins and is rooted in the heart.”

‘It can start with me’

During the archbishop’s homily, Angel Ingram hastily scribbled on her Mass program.

“I was taking notes on Catholic social teaching,” said the member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis. “So when I communicate with others, I can say, ‘This is what the Catholic Church says on racism,’ so that it doesn’t get skewed—that we believe in all life, we believe that we’re all made in the image of God.”

Ingram, who is also a member of the Knights of Peter Claver, Ladies Auxiliary Council 109, said she was “happy that the archbishop came out and talked about racism and Catholic teaching. I’m just really happy he spoke about it. … I think [the Church needs] to have more discussion about the value of people of many colors and cultures. I would like to see us mix more and talk about racism and disparities.”

Alexander Mingus of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis took time after Mass to reflect on two “Prayers for Racial Healing in Our Land” found on the back of the Mass program. (See related prayers)

“These prayers, I think, are really helpful. … [They are] something I can take with me going forward to remind myself this Mass wasn’t a one-time event. [The prayers are] a good way to take that [message] and apply them to my personal life and my work” as associate director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, “looking at the bigger policy ideas, how do they reflect racial justice for our brothers and sisters.”

The archbishop’s message that justice “starts in our hearts” resonated with Mingus.

“If we’re not sure where to start, we can always start in our own hearts and do an examination and say, ‘How can I bring about the kingdom of God on Earth and promote racial justice and reconciliation?’ It can start with me.” †

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