My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Living in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln lived for over 20 years before he was elected president, we are frequently reminded of his crucial role in ending slavery as a legal institution in the United States. Although slavery officially ended on Dec. 6, 1865, the day the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, racial segregation would continue under the protection of the law until the United States Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools with their 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended all state and local laws requiring public segregation.
Although slavery and segregation are no longer legally enforced, one cannot say that all racial divisions in our country have been overcome. A very ugly manifestation of the residual racial tensions that continue to afflict our country was seen recently in the violent demonstrations that took place in Charlottesville, Va. The violence there was sparked by a member of a white nationalist group who drove a car into peaceful protesters, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others. These racist impulses and actions must be thoroughly denounced and entirely rejected as being morally unacceptable.
In the immediate aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement in which he called for calm amid the violent protests in Charlottesville. In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo said, “On behalf of the bishops of the United States, I join leaders from around the nation in condemning the violence and hatred that have now led to one death and multiple injuries in Charlottesville, Va. ... The abhorrent acts of hatred on display in Charlottesville are an attack on the unity of our nation and therefore summon us all to fervent prayer and peaceful action. The bishops stand with all who are oppressed by evil ideology and entrust all who suffer to the prayers of St. Peter Claver as we approach his feast day. We also stand ready to work with all people of goodwill for an end to racial violence and for the building of peace in our communities.”
Cardinal DiNardo’s statement on behalf of all the Catholic Bishops in the United States was sent to all the priests, deacons, and staff of the Catholic Pastoral Center and Catholic Charities of our diocese, authorizing them to share this statement with their parishioners and others, and was reported in the Aug. 20 issue of our diocesan newspaper, Catholic Times, along with my request “for prayers for an end to racial violence and for unity and harmony in our country and in our church.”
On Aug. 23, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Initiated by Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB, the committee “will focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions.”
In his statement regarding the establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, Cardinal DiNardo said, “Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to inflict our nation. The establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the Church and our society to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one another as brothers and sisters.”
I commend Cardinal DiNardo for taking this action on behalf of the Catholic Bishops in the United States and I fully support this collegial effort to address the sin of racism as we work together for racial healing in our country. Recently, as reported in the August 6th issue of Catholic Times, several persons from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois attended the National Black Catholic Congress in Orlando, Florida, where 2,200 attendees participated in presentations and workshops addressing issues such as the destructive nature of racism. Efforts such as this will help to bridge racial divisions.
Almost 40 years ago, the Bishops of the United States wrote a Pastoral Letter on Racism, which stated, “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for every form of discrimination based on race to “be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (n. 1935). That is certainly our prayer and our hope for our diocese and our nation.
May God give us this grace. Amen.