Are You Aware of a Catholic Pastoral Letter on Racism

Paul Keggington

January 12, 2011

Anticipating Martin Luther Day and February’s Black History Month, Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on the Catholic document, ‘Brothers and Sisters To Us’, a pastoral letter by the U.S. Bishops on the issue of racism.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Greenwood, MS

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy offers pertinent points from U. S. Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter 'Brothers and Sisters To Us'.

In the minds of many, the most commonly recognized ethnic culture in our country is that of the African American. As a group they have been more visible and more vocal than many other groups, particularly during the Civil Rights era of the 60’s. Let’s consider the Church’s document, Brothers and Sisters To Us, a pastoral letter by the U.S. Bishops on the issue of racism in our country.

The letter is far from new, but it still holds many pertinent thoughts as we call to mind the struggle against racism which has been led by our African American brothers and sisters.

Many hold the opinion that we have conquered the affliction of racism in our American culture. The bishops address this stance saying: “We do not deny that changes have been made, that laws have been passed, that policies have been implemented. But neither can it be denied that too often what has happened has only been a covering over, not a fundamental change. Today the sense of urgency has yielded to an apparent acceptance of the status quo. The climate of crisis engendered by demonstrations, protest, and confrontation has given way to a mood of indifference; and other issues occupy our attention.”

Peace Day Banner St. Francis of Assisi School, Greenwood, MSThe bishops see economic justice as directly related to racial justice. They write: “We are entering an era characterized by limited resources, restricted job markets and dwindling revenues. In this atmosphere, the poor and racial minorities are being asked to bear the heaviest burden of the new economic pressures…Because it is less blatant, this subtle form of racism is in some aspects even more dangerous–harder to combat and easier to ignore. Major segments of the population are being pushed to the margins of society in our nation.

Perhaps we wonder what the issue of racism has to do with the Church. The bishops tell us: “Racism is the sin…that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. The sin is social in nature in that each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices. How great, therefore, is that sin of racism which weakens the Church’s witness as the universal sign of unity among all peoples! How great the scandal given by racist Catholics who make the Body of Christ, the Church, a sign of racial oppression! Yet all too often the Church in our country has been for many a ‘white Church’, a racist instituion.”

A million blacks make Catholicism one of the largest denomonations among black Americans today. Striving to become more aware of the needs and trials of the African American community, we keep in mind the bishops’ challenge: “There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing for bygone times for privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another age. For we are children of the age to come.”

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