April 16, 2021

Virtual series seeks to explain, discuss, find ways to address systemic racism

By Natalie Hoefer

The archdiocesan Black Catholic Ministry is offering monthly Zoom sessions for all Catholics of central and southern Indiana on the topic of intercultural competency.

The goal of the series is “to discuss intercultural competency and how we can address systemic and structural racism through dialogue and action,” said Pearlette Springer, coordinator of Black Catholic Ministry in the archdiocese.

The need for the series evolved from the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, and the following national outcry to address systemic racism.

Last year, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson expressed to Springer a desire for parishes to dialogue about racism.

“Addressing the evil of racism is obviously a matter of respecting life, upholding the dignity of every person from the moment of conception to natural death, which is part of Catholic social teaching,” he said.

“As implied in our profession of the four marks of the Church—as one, holy, catholic and apostolic—the Catholic faith transcends all bounds of ethnicity, language, culture and society. Racism strikes against our understanding of what it means to be members of the body of Christ, brothers and sisters in him.”

Springer agreed with the archbishop’s wish.

“But I was thinking that some parishes may not have a clue where to start,” she said. “These Zoom sessions are not only an opportunity for people to engage in an overview of information, but also to engage in conversation to the point where they’ll feel more comfortable in engaging in conversations in their parishes.”

The monthly sessions, which began in January, include prayer and worship, and feature leaders from around the country.

Upcoming speakers include Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow, director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans; Fessahaye Mebrahtu, director of Ethnic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Deacon Royce Winters, director of African American Pastoral Ministries for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Upcoming topics include “The Importance of Africentric Catholic Catechesis,” “The Legacy of Racism and the Emerging Immigrant Church,” and “The Catholic Church: Do Black Lives Really Matter?”

The series has enjoyed good participation from Catholics around the archdiocese, said Springer.

“The participants have been engaged, open-minded and diverse in ethnicity,” she said. “They’ve been very positive in their suggestions of how we can engage [in such discussions] at a deeper level in the Church.”

While the response to the series has been positive, the comfort level of participants has not always been so.

“Nobody that comes to the conversation comes to find comfort,” Springer said. “Blacks are not comfortable talking about racism, and some whites are afraid of mis-speaking and being called racist.

“That’s not what the talks are about. We’re not here to accuse. We’re here to say, ‘This is the problem—let’s work toward a solution.’ We all grew up in this society. We have to break the status quo, because it’s the status quo keeping things the way they are.”

The sessions are scheduled for an hour and a half, but often go longer “because people want to continue talking,” Springer noted. While people can choose to leave at any time, “I don’t want to say a session is over [if people are still discussing] because these are conversations I want them to have.”

Such discussions among those of various races are necessary, she believes, because “racism affects us all. The main thing is to figure out how to help people understand how it’s affecting them, and then for all of us to work toward addressing systemic racism in our Church and our nation.”

(To register for one or more of the monthly sessions, go to cutt.ly/InterculturalCompetency. For questions or more information, contact Pearlette Springer at 317-236-1474 or pspringer@archindy.org.)

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