October 9, 2020

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

We must not remain silent through today’s challenging times

David Bethuram

Catholic Charities USA recently updated a document called “Poverty and Racism, Overlapping Threats to the Common Good.” This paper has been widely used throughout Catholic Charities’ ministry and beyond. Upon reading this document through the lens of more recent events, it became immediately evident that there is much to gain from further study and analysis of efforts to implement solutions to the deep linkage between racism and poverty in our country.

Poverty and racism continue to undermine our nation’s most basic promise of liberty and justice for all. It’s been 52 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, and across the country, the fight against racism and for justice still continues.

In his address to the joint session of the U.S. Congress in September of 2015, Pope Francis stated, “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as [Abraham] Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights of all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed … the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace.”

Catholic Charities is watching as Black and brown men and women are suffering and dying because privilege and power have more value than they do. It happens while people are jogging, birdwatching, sleeping at home in the middle of the night, lying on the ground face down in handcuffs and not moving under a grown man’s persistent weight.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic that should equalize us in our common humanity, vulnerability, community and compassion, it goes on.

It’s hard to say something meaningful when words fail. Acknowledging this failure seems like adding a tiny, weak voice in a screaming swell of anguish. But it is our voice, and the efforts of Catholic Charities to work for justice compel us to use that voice.

Catholic Charities speaks because we see our Black and brown neighbors who have been forbidden to wear a mask in a store because it signals danger, but are now required to wear a mask in the same store, lest they be a danger.

We speak because we see our Black and brown neighbors who are infected at alarmingly higher rates than white neighbors, because poverty and systemic failures to treat them with equity put them at inherently higher risk, and then can’t or won’t adjust quickly enough to protect them.

Whether it be from a virus that destroys lungs or a knee in the neck on the ground, we are watching our neighbors beg for their lives to matter until they have no more breath left to breathe the words.

With an unwavering gaze, we must confront and compel ourselves first, and then our neighbors, to recognize and honor the dignity of every individual we encounter—immediately, explicitly and with the same degree of inherent worth.

Words may be weak, but silence is not justice, and we have the breath to add our voice.

We commit not just to speak, but to act in and with and for love, to cherish the divine within every person. We reaffirm to our colleagues and our community that, while anguish seems unrelenting, we will not be silent.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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