Violence, Racism Raise Fears but
Bishops Call for Determination in Addressing the Issues
Horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton merged with the national debate on racism last week, leaving many people exasperated but also forging renewed determination to combat the evils of violence and racism in our society.
“After El Paso,” wrote Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, it is clear “[w]e need to help our society to see our common humanity — that we are all children of God, meant to live together as brothers and sisters, no matter the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the place we were born.”
He went on to say how “[w]hite nationalism and domestic terrorism are nothing new, sadly,” mentioning the history of Japanese internment camps, the lynching of Mexicans in Texas, and the bombings of churches in the Jim Crow South.
Bishops from two California dioceses – Bishop Oscar Cantú, San Jose, and Bishop Daniel Garcia, Monterey – were especially swift in calling for action after the apparently racially motivated shooting in El Paso.
Both their dioceses were impacted by the shooting in July at a food festival in Gilroy, a town that lies near the border of the two dioceses. Both (along with Archbishop Gomez) also served in Texas dioceses before moving to California.
Bishop Cantú expanded the on need to watch out for each other:
“[W]e are reminded that each of us in the human family bears responsibility for each other: for brother, sister, neighbor,” wrote Bishop Cantú. “Thus, it is important that we realize the impact that language and attitudes of racism, discrimination, and hatred can have on others.”
During his homily at a Mass to pray for the victims, Bishop Garcia of Monterey recalled how he was once denied enrollment in a school because of his ethnicity.
He asked the faithful of his diocese to tell our leaders that “enough is enough and we need to seek some kind of change in the way we are treating the present situation.”
In the last week, Bishops of several USCCB committees also stressed the need to change the public discourse: “[H]ate-filled rhetoric and ideas can become the motivation for some to commit acts of violence. The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic sentiments that have been publicly proclaimed in our society in recent years have incited hatred in our communities.
“We, therefore, renew our call to all to act swiftly to stop using hate-filled language that demeans and divides us and motivates some to such horrific violence. Instead, we ask our leaders and all Americans to work to unite us as a great, diverse, and welcoming people.”
Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter dealing with the persistent history of racism in the United States.
Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love defined racism as when “either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful.”
The statement urges individuals to examine their own attitudes and work to correct any injustice exhibited by themselves or their parishes, schools or communities.
FBI statistics say that the majority of hate crimes are based on race, ethnicity, or ancestry closely followed by religion. The shootings in El Paso targeting Hispanics or the synagogue violence in Poway, CA, and Pittsburg, PA, are just some of the latest examples. The shooter in Gilroy also had a list of religious institutions authorities believe were potential targets.
Combatting ethnic and religious violence in this nation has its challenges, even in liberal California.
A recent attempt to forge a model diversity curriculum failed to include antisemitism in its program. According to the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, “we find it alarming – to say the least – that at a time when Nazis are marching openly in Charlottesville chanting "Jews will not replace us," and Jews in our own state are being physically attacked in houses of worship, the [curriculum] would intentionally turn a blind eye to hatred and discrimination against our community.” The error was soon corrected but it illustrates the point that recognizing racism - whereever it is encountered -- is critical.
In their letter, the U.S. Bishops are unequivocal on calling Christians to recognize and to fight racism:
“The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life. The Church in the United States has spoken out consistently and forcefully against abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty, and other forms of violence that threaten human life. It is not a secret that these attacks on human life have severely affected people of color, who are disproportionally affected by poverty, targeted for abortion, have less access to healthcare, have the greatest numbers on death row, and are most likely to feel pressure to end their lives when facing serious illness. As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue. Accordingly, we will not cease to speak forcefully against and work toward ending racism.”
Archbishop Gomez put it more simply and, perhaps, more eloquently:
“The way we honor the lives taken at El Paso is to live with true Christian love — and to live for the vision of America that their killer denied.”