Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell and a woman religious walk with others toward the National Museum of African American History and Culture during a protest June 8, following the death of George Floyd. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Americans urged to heal race wounds

  • June 10, 2020

WASHINGTON -- As protests continued around the world at the killing by police of George Floyd, United States bishops called for Americans to celebrate the country’s diversity and pray for the end of the deep sin of racism.

“Our diversity should never be considered a problem that needs to be solved, or something that divides,” Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg, Fla., said June 7 during a “Holy Hour for Peace, Healing and Change.”

In Boston, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley called racism a “social and spiritual disease that kills people.” In a letter read at parish Masses, he said Catholic social teaching provides the inspiration to guide the Church in addressing any form of discrimination.

The events occurred as tens of thousands of Americans joined peaceful demonstrations, rallies and vigils the weekend of June 6-7 in response to the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died May 25 while his neck was pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer.

“If you are someone who has struggled for breath because of the oppression of racism, I want you to know I see you, I hear you and I pray for you,” Parkes said. “This is not what God intended for His beloved children. As we gather here today in this cathedral and outside, we can breathe. And we can speak. And we can pray. And we can act.”

He said each person is unique and that God invites people to “live in communion with one another.”

“Our diversity should never be considered a problem that needs to be solved, or something that divides us,” he said. “Rather diversity should be seen as a reality that celebrates God’s love in the wonder of His creation.”

Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Me., said he was on a walk when he came upon a group of black children playing and on the sidewalk nearby they had created a colourful image of what the term “black lives matter” means to them.

“I thought to myself why, ever, would these beautiful children ever think that their lives do not matter? Yet, when we talk to black people, they share with us that they do not believe our society values them,” he said. “Systematic racism begins in the attitudes of the individuals in a society. And, therefore, overcoming racism will begin with each person reflecting and acting personally, to change their view. Society will change when we change.”

He called on Catholics “to affirm their commitment to foster respect and justice for all people.”

In his letter, O’Malley acknowledged the U.S. Catholic Church had its own “historical complicity in slavery” and must be part of any effort to ensure healing among people of different races, nationalities and religions.

“Going forward, the reality of racism in our society and the moral imperative of racial equality and justice must be incorporated in our schools, our teaching and our preaching,” O’Malley said. “We must uphold commitments to equal dignity and human rights in all institutions in our society, in politics, in law, economy, education.

“Catholic teaching on social justice measures the way a society acts fairly or not. Our work will not be done until African American men, women and children are treated equally in every aspect of life in the United States.”

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said, like the coronavirus pandemic and its deadly impact, racism is a deadly virus that must be cured.

“How is racism, this silent but deadly virus, passed on to other people?” he asked. “Is it learned at home? Is it transmitted through our structures? Is it part of the air that we breathe, and how do we find a vaccine, how can we protect ourselves, how can we render it ineffective?”

Gregory said Floyd’s death reminded him of “a whole collage of individuals who have been assassinated for no other reason than the colour of their skin.”

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy called for profound change.

“This moment in our nation’s long crucifixion of the African American community must not be merely an interlude. It must be a moment of transformation,” he said.

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