Catholic Bishops in California Launch Initiative to Tackle Racism
The Sept. 9 meeting with Catholic members of the African American community occurred on the feast of St. Peter Claver as the first event of the year-long project.
The Catholic bishops of California and Catholic leaders from the African American community met virtually last week to begin a year-long initiative meant better to understand and combat racism.
The Sept. 9 meeting occurred by teleconference on the feast of St. Peter Claver, which numerous U.S. dioceses and Catholic organizations observed as a day of fasting and prayer to end racism.
The bishops said in a statement that the gathering was intended “to begin a journey aimed at converting our hearts to more fully understand the extent and nature of the sin of racism in ourselves, our Church and our nation.”
“This journey is intended to offer tangible change, in which the Bishops, together with the clergy, religious and faithful of California participate,” they said.
In a three-hour-long listening session, the 25 bishops of California heard two laywomen and a priest recount their experiences of racism both within the Catholic Church and in society.
“The people shared from their heart. Some of the things were pretty tough to listen to,” Steve Pehanich, director of communications for the California Catholic Conference, according to Angelus News.
“The bishops were touched. There were some tears. There were some hard to bear moments, but I think they really appreciated it,” he said.
The bishops said the first step of the initiative is to listen to the accounts of racism. They said it is important to first understand internal sins before addressing the sins of society.
The bishops’ statement quoted from both Sollicitudo rei socialis, St. John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical on the 20th anniversary of Populorum Progressio, and Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship, the US bishops’ guide to political engagement.
They said that “over the next year, the dioceses of California are committing to measures aimed at understanding and combating the sin of racism by examining our own conscience and probing civil society and our own institutions for signs of the structures of sin.”
The next step of the initiative is dialogue. The bishops have encouraged Catholics in California to take the results of these sessions and discuss the topic of racism within the home, Church, and groups of friends.
The final step of the project is action. They said that during 2021, the Church will implement strategies formed by the discussions in previous months. These strategies will seek to “root out racist thinking and practices and foster a ‘culture of encounter,’” the bishops said. The action plan will include education, advocacy, and dialogue sessions that aim better to identify racism.
In the fight against racism, the bishops said, it is important to first bring about a change of heart and foster new habits. They said, while these changes will be difficult to implement, it is important to trust in God and prayer.
“We realize the road ahead will be challenging but these are steps we as a Church must take. We rely on the Good Shepherd to guide all of us in this journey, asking for the gifts of his charity, wisdom, humility and forgiveness. May the Lord Jesus lead us in constant prayer, with an abiding spirit of conversion and reconciliation. We urge the faithful to continue to pray to end racism and for a new beginning of hope,” they said.