Marchers take to the streets of Toronto Aug. 3 demanding an end to systemic racism in schools. Photo by Michael Swan

Editorial: The fight rages on

  • September 3, 2020

Fifty-five years ago, Pope Paul VI penned these words on the eve of the official end of Vatican II:

“Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God’s likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition. … For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honoured.”

Sadly, the words of more than half a century ago could have been written today and, if history is any indicator, they will continue to echo with a damning indictment of man’s inhumanity to man.

These past several months have seen too much tragedy, too many examples of how far we remain from a world where the equality of people is a given. The death of George Floyd in May at the hands of police in Minneapolis ignited outrage, and rightly so, as did the police shooting of another Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis., last month.

Marching in the street, taking a knee, condemning racism, making impassioned pleas for equality, suspending sports events … yes, they may have raised our consciousness of systemic racism, but drawing attention to a problem is one thing, eradicating it is quite another. Generation after generation have decried racism and its insidious trail of tragedy, but just when it seems there’s a hint of progress, we are jolted back to its reality.

This is, of course, not just an American problem, or a law enforcement issue. The world is rife with examples of racial injustice, Canada included. As much as we like to hold our country, and indeed our Church, as an example of social equality, history tells another story.

Still, the Church — and that means all its members — has an important role to play in battling racism, with a centuries-old foundation built on the prospect of equality and dignity for all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out the importance of this quest quite clearly in condemning discrimination as morally unacceptable: “Racism is not merely one sin among many, it is a radical evil dividing the human family.”

Our responsibility does not lie simply in not practising racist behaviour ourselves — when all the while we are spectators to the injustice around us. It demands that we denounce injustice at every turn, support the efforts of those seeking justice and be an example of tolerance and inclusion to all we encounter.

Pope Francis set out the challenge a few months ago: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” he said.

Racism’s roots run very, very deep, but not deep enough that we are powerless to pull them from the Earth.

It will take time, more than we would like, but we have our instructions. It’s up to us to follow them.

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