Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The Book of Genesis reveals God as the Creator of
a vast universe teeming with a rich diversity of plants and animals,
surrounded by the sea and sky. The Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit create out of infinite love the universe and all that fills
it. The culmination and high point of God's creative energy is
the creation of the human race on the sixth day: "God created
man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male
and female he created them...and God saw everything that he had
made, and it was very good..."(Gn 1:27, 31).
Though God intended that all creation live in the
harmony and love that unites it as one, human beings, exercising
their free will, defied the will of God and replaced the divinely
planned harmony with division, the divinely willed unity with
conflict, the divinely intended community with fragmentation.
One form of human division, conflict and fragmentation is racism:
personal, social, institutional and structural. Racism mars our
identity as a people, as the human race made in the image and
likeness of God (Gn 1:27).
Jesus, the incarnation of the eternal Son of God,
entered human history two millennia ago. When Jesus came into
the world, his people, God's people, the Jewish people, were a
conquered people, often despised by their foreign rulers. Jesus
gave us the means to find our way back to his Father, whom he
taught us to call our Father. Jesus, the new Adam, went to his
death on the sixth day to recreate us by redeeming us from sin
and Satan. We are again to walk in unity, as one people enjoying
the variety of plants, animals and human cultures which constitute
the world redeemed by Christ.
Through his preaching and healing, through the pattern
of discipleship he called people to follow, through his bodily
resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus literally embodies
for us a new way of life, which conforms to the will and reign
of God. Jesus transcends, challenges and transforms everything
that divides the human community (Gal 3:28). He calls us back
to a communion with one another, a unity, which reflects the communion
of God's own Trinitarian life.
Racism, whether personal, social, institutional
or structural, contradicts the purpose of the incarnation of the
Word of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Racism contradicts
God's will for our salvation. We cannot claim to love God without
loving our neighbor (Mt 22:34 ff.). Since racism is a failure
to love our neighbor, only freedom from racism will enable us
to be one with God and one another.
The vision of a community dwelling in God's unconditional
and universal love may sound like an impossible dream, but in
God all things are possible (Mk 10:27). The radical conversion
needed to overcome the sin of racism is made possible by the Holy
Spirit. Sent by the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in our
hearts and in our midst to empower us to live truly as God's people.
By the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us, we can do infinitely
more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20). Jesus assured his
disciples that the abiding presence of the Spirit would empower
them to be faithful.
Envisioning our future
The gospel compels us to love our neighbor as ourselves,
to abandon patterns of seeing those who are racially or culturally
different from ourselves as strangers and to recognize them as
our brothers and sisters. Even those who have suffered at the
hands of others, individually or collectively, must pray to overcome
hostility, forgiving those who have offended them and asking forgiveness
from those whom they have offended. We must embrace one another
as formerly estranged neighbors now seeking reconciliation.
Maintaining current patterns of ethnic, cultural,
racial and economic isolation and hostility tarnishes our call
as Church to be a universal sacrament of salvation. Consciously
changing these patterns returns us to our fundamental identity
as a community called to universal communion with God and with
We meet God in the created, visible, tangible surroundings
of the home, the neighborhood and the workplace. We encounter
God in and through our spouse, children, brothers and sisters,
the family next door, the shopkeeper on the corner, our teachers,
the stranger on the street. In short, we meet God in and through
people of every color, ethnic background, religion, class and
gender. God is active in and through the people, places and circumstances
that constitute our ordinary daily life.
This belief places upon us the mission to transform
all relationships into instances of love and justice. Our love
of God, expressed in prayer, pilgrimages and other acts of devotion,
must be made visible in our practice of the love of neighbor,
expressed by establishing patterns of right relationships in our
daily lives, in our work and everyday encounters. Loving and just
relationships are the manifestation of our communion with God.
Ethnic, cultural and racial diversities are gifts
from God to the human race. In Jesus, we are called to a radical
loveto love of the stranger as our neighbor (Lk 10:25-37).
Others may be different from us in every respect except one: each
man, woman or child we encounter is also a child of God, a brother
or sister in the Lord, whom we should welcome as our neighbor.
The stranger whom we encounter is really our neighbor in Christ.
Through communion with our neighbors who are racially and culturally
distinct from ourselves, we begin to live, as a community, the
unity in diversity that is the life of the Triune God. We can
learn to live, work and pray in solidarity with the stranger now
recognized as our neighbor.
Living with our neighbor. Our neighborhood
is the first place we encounter those with whom we are to dwell
in love. A just neighborhood must be open to all peopleblack
and white, Hispanic and Asian, young and old, wealthy and poor,
Christians and people of all faiths. Access to housing, in particular,
needs to be fair and open. In a society that is still structurally
racist, open housing cannot be taken for granted; it must be achieved.
We confront racist patterns in housing sales and
rental markets through programs that help establish and maintain
diversity throughout a community. To be successful, such programs
require collaboration among neighboring communities, towns and
villages. The goals are clear. Neighborhoods must be safe and
free of discrimination and hate crimes; schools must provide a
good education for all students; transportation must be accessible.
The means to reach the goals involve cooperating across racial
and cultural divisions.
Working with our neighbor. Although the phenomenon
of racism can exist independent of economic factors, it is bound
up with entrenched poverty, which persists despite our national
affluence. Most poor people are white; but blacks, Hispanics and
Native Americans are disproportionately poor. As our U.S. bishops
wrote in 1986, "Despite measurable progress during the last 20
years, people of color still must negotiate subtle obstacles and
overcome covert barriers in their pursuit of employment and/or
And, as Bryan Massingale wrote in 1998, "Church
teaching on economic justice insists that economic decisions and
institutions be judged on whether they protect or undermine the
dignity of the human person. We support policies that create jobs
with adequate pay and decent working conditions, increase the
minimum wage so it becomes a living wage, and overcome barriers
to equal pay and employment for women and minorities."
Supporting cultural diversity. The ability
to live and work in a culturally diverse environment equips us
to work toward universal peace and justice. Our efforts to encourage
judicial and political systems, social and professional organizations,
health care facilities, educational institutions, labor unions,
small and large businesses, major corporations, the professions,
sports teams and the arts to be welcoming will be more credible
when the Church truly becomes a model of what she advocates.
Our desire as disciples of Jesus is to support people
of every race and ethnic group in enjoying their human rights
and freedom. We are called to promote love, justice and what Pope
John Paul II has called a "culture of life." Until all are free
to live anywhere in our society without fear of reprisal or violence,
none of us is completely free.
Dwelling with God in his Church
The Second Vatican Council acknowledged and supported
cultural diversity in the Church when it encouraged the "fostering
of the qualities and talents of the various races and nations"
and the "careful and prudent" admission into the Church's life
of "elements from the traditions and cultures of individual peoples"(Sacred
Liturgy, 37, 40). The use of vernacular languages and cultural
symbols and adapted rituals within the Church's liturgy is a sign
of Catholic unity and serves to bring all peoples and cultures
into the worship of God, who rejoices in the beauty of everything
he has made.
Vatican II also called the local Churches to bring
into their life "the particular social and cultural circumstances"
of the local people. This requires that priests, religious women
and men and lay ecclesial ministers are called forth from among
all the various cultural and racial groups which constitute the
Church (Missionary Activity, 10, 19).
To speak of oneself as Irish Catholic, German Catholic,
Polish Catholic, Hispanic Catholic, African-American Catholic,
Lithuanian Catholic is not divisive, provided each of these differences
is lived and offered as a gift to others rather than designed
as an obstacle to keep others out. Catholic universality is marked
by the contributions of all cultures.
Loving only people who are just like ourselves,
loving only those who are members of our biological family or
who share our own ethnic or cultural background, our own political
views or our own class assumptions, does not fulfill the challenge
of the gospel: "If you love only those who love you, what reward
can you expect; even the tax collectors do as much as that"
(Mt 5:46-48; Lk 6:32-34, 36).
Striving to be a witness for Jesus Christ as a good
neighbor to all is difficult. To embrace the vision proclaimed
in Jesus' preaching of the Reign of God, we need to see new patterns
and possibilities. Too often, when Church-planning decisions are
being made, the persons around the table do not adequately reflect
the rich cultural diversity that shapes our Church, city, nation
As we continue to struggle against racism within
the Church, we see a time when all of God's children will be contributing
to the governance of our local dioceses. Constructing socially
just patterns of relationships within our ecclesiastical institutions
presents the same difficulties met in being a good neighbor anywhere;
but, as Christians seeking to be true disciples, we can never
abandon our efforts to embody the love and justice given us by
Christ. Most of all, we can count on his grace to bring power
to the vision faith gives us.
Eucharist: Sacrament and means of communion
We are most ourselves in the celebration of the
Eucharist. Our sacramental worship unites us and makes us a community
of believers. The Mass calls us to communion with one another
in Christ Jesus. The proclamation of God's holy Word and reflection
on it within the celebration of the Eucharist, which is Christ's
life poured out for us, cannot help but deepen our spiritual unity
and make our social solidarity possible.
Too often, however, the pattern of culturally and
racially homogenous parishes, sometimes established in the wake
of "white flight," contributes to Catholic parishes being instances
of racial and cultural exclusion. Sunday, it has often been noted,
is the most segregated day of the week in the United States. "We
have preached the gospel while closing our eyes to the racism
it condemns" (Brothers and Sisters to Us, p. 11). Our failure
to live the gospel of God's unconditional and universal love in
culturally and racially inclusive parishes and communities contributes
to our society's failure to confront the sin of racism.
The Spirit's empowering gifts
From diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, we accept
and embrace in faith the love of God that compels us to dwell
together in love. After reflecting on the historical, social and
economic dimensions of our complicity with the sin of racism,
we ask as Catholics for the grace of conversion from the sin of
racism, which has separated us from our neighbor and from God.
The Church was born with the descent of the Holy
Spirit on the Virgin Mary and the apostles and on the nations
gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Since that moment 2,000 years
ago, the indwelling of the Spirit in the Church and in each of
her members pulls us toward dwelling together in love. The gifts
the Spirit brings transform all our relationships.
The Church in any society is to be a leaven. The
Church is always more than any particular place or society. She
finds her identity as Catholic, all-embracing. If she is faithful
to her Lord, the Savior of the world, the Church will not only
proclaim who he is but will herself act to become the womb, the
matrix, in which a new world can gestate and be born.
Listening and welcoming, the Church is a place of
encounter, of racial dialogue and intercultural collaboration.
In a context of universal mutual respect born of love, the Church
offers the gifts that transform the world and bring salvation
in this life and the next.
NEXT: Vocations: How Is God Calling Me? (by Fidelis