PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish


April, 2021

An Uncomfortable Fact

            The Catholic Church in the United States is made up mostly of white people. There is an increasing number of those with Hispanic backgrounds, but only a small percentage is African American.  The uncomfortable fact is that among the white parishioners, every person lies somewhere on the continuum between manifesting strong biases and racial behaviors to those with less strong racial attitudes.  No one is exempt.  A person may protest to the contrary, but each one of us, as a white person, lives in a privileged and entitled environment. 


A Personal Antidote

            Only recently have I become aware of my racial attitudes and accompanying behaviors.  I grew up in Minneapolis, MN and attended a Catholic high school of 1000 students, of whom only a few were black.  I never related to any of them, nor did I encounter many African American people until I was sent to Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL to study philosophy and physics.  Upon arrival, I took part in a ministry to the black community nearby, tutoring grade school students and becoming acquainted with their families.  During my three years there, two incidents stand out.  One was being called “[N]-lover” by a Jesuit classmate who grew up in the South.  I never forgot it.  The second was the week that JFK was killed.  The entire black community was in deep despair; the whole neighborhood was deathly silent.  On my rounds to tutor the children that weekend, one family invited me into their home.  They included me in their grief and spoke of their experiences of being black in a southern city.  From that day forward I never thought of myself as being racist, but I was wrong.  There is a way of acting that presumes that I can do whatever I wish so long as it is within the boundaries of the law and makes good sense.  That gives me a freedom most African Americans do not have. 


Waking Up As A Parish        

            Awareness is the first step to moving along the continuum towards becoming less racist.  Robin Diangelo in White Fragility wrote, “When our fundamental understanding of racism is transformed, so are our assumptions and resultant behaviors.” (Random House, 2018, p.142)  She continued, “Imagine the difference in our environment, interactions, norms, and policies if the following list described our assumptions:”  A few items on the list included, “All of us are socialized into the system of racism.”  “Racism cannot be avoided.”  “Bias is implicit and unconscious; I don’t expect to be aware of mine without a lot of ongoing effort.” 

            The awakening begins with the leadership: pastor, staff and lay leaders.  They are all overworked, but a reordering of priorities might be required.  A Google search provides local resources for workshops, classes and seminars on anti-racism.  A few could attend one or more and bring back to the others what they had learned.

            Forming relationships with people of color, especially African Americans, is a healthy step, interacting with them on an equal basis, listening rather than explaining, making excuses, interrupting or sharing ill-placed humor or remarks.  If the experience leads to lasting friendships then these encounters have become graced.

            Relating these experiences to the parish community as a whole is the next step, either through homilies, reflections at the end of Mass, materials in the parish bulletin, presentations between Masses or during the week, small group discussions and the like.  Hopefully, as people return to Mass and active parish involvement following wide-spread vaccinations, they will join this emphasis on racial awareness and accountability,

            Fostering frequent interactions with people of color, both formally and in casual settings, is the key to creating experiences where people pray together, share potlucks, enjoy sports and games with one another, visit one another’s churches, speak freely without judgment or fear of reprisals.  “See how they love one another.“