Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Finding hope in the Eucharist

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • July 5, 2020

Over a couple of weeks, the Archdiocese of Toronto celebrated two joyful significant events: the opening of our churches on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on June 14 and the ordination of eight transitional deacons into the priesthood on June 27.

Both events are a reflection of who we are as people of God. The names of our newly ordained priests and their countries of birth reflect the diversity of the archdiocese. It was much the same for my ordination class in 2004 when for the first time in the archdiocese’s history none of the six newly-ordained priests had been born in Canada.

Priests in the archdiocese come from different backgrounds, yet they are identified by their ministry — the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

The opening of the churches on Corpus Christi Sunday offered us the opportunity to come back to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for the first time in three months. Many Catholics are delighted they can come to Mass again to receive the Eucharist, the “bread of life” that unites us to Christ (John 6:57). Our understanding of the Eucharist inspires us, as God’s people, to embrace diversity and to accept and respect each other as we are.

However, recent social developments have awakened us to reconsider how we see the world in general and the Eucharist in particular. Over the past few weeks we have read many stories about systemic anti-Black racism in our world, as well as the life experiences of Black people, Indigenous people and people of ethnic minorities in this country and around the world.

These stories have indicated that racism is not only confined to the police and the justice system, it occurs in all aspects of life — in ways we might not have thought. Black people have related stories in which they were belittled and ignored. And many people worldwide have spoken out against anti-Black racism and the need to address all kinds of racism.

So, what is anti-Black racism? How do we recognize anti-Black racism? How do we know when we are acting on racist beliefs against others? Racism is difficult to talk about — it has become a hot-button topic. We don’t like to admit that we have racist biases. We might not even accept that anti-Black racism exists. The mere mention of the word “racism” can elicit all sorts of different emotions.   

One evening as I was reflecting on the day’s events in the church, I recalled a question that had been asked by a few people since my ordination — what is it like for me to be a Black person serving as a priest in Toronto? I had wondered what prompted these individuals to ask me that question.

Whatever the reasons, the Church is known to be the voice of the voiceless and it is expected to be a leader in speaking out against anti-Black racism. And it starts from us who form the Body of Christ.        

So how do we start fighting for justice for all people? In a recent column by Cathy Majtenyi in The Register, she writes that battling racism starts with admitting that “racism exists in our lives and in our society.”

We all need to reflect on our own biases and to ask ourselves when we have been blind to our own racist biases. As people of the Eucharist, at Mass, we are all gathered from different backgrounds, including the celebrants. But “we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17), symbolizing our unity in Christ as one community. As one community, together, united in God, we must listen to our brothers and sisters crying out against injustice.

As people of God, we need to recognize our differences — and to pray that God may open our hearts to the needs of people who are different from us. In addressing the issue of systemic racism, Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas recently was quoted in The Register: “It’s not a task the Church can observe from the sidelines.”

When we start to admit that we are different, then we may find Cardinal Thomas Collins’ message for victims of racism as a message of hope and reconciliation “as we strive to reflect on the loving face of Jesus to all.”

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)