By Kristen L. Byrd, Special to The Catholic Virginian
The nation and the world were shocked and saddened by the events that took place in Charlottesville on August 12 that ended with one dead and 19 others injured.
In the week before he died, Bishop Francis DiLorenzo was one of the first to call for peace in an August 12 statement. Days later, in a second statement he said, “Hatred, and its manifestations of racism, neo-Nazism and white supremacy, are sins against God and profoundly wound the children of God.” Both statements are available on the diocesan website www.richmonddiocese.org.
In the coming days, the Diocese would be “exploring how to address the issues highlighted in Charlottesville through prayer and action,” he said. Since then, many parishes across the Diocese have held special Masses, prayer gatherings and vigils for peace. Due to Bishop DiLorenzo’s untimely death, more plans for addressing the issues of hatred and racism, and how to talk about difficult subjects are forthcoming.
In Richmond, Our Lady of Lourdes held one such Mass on August 17. Hundreds of people from many different ethnicities gathered to pray for peace. Mass began with “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” sung in both English and Spanish. Fr. Jim Begley delivered the homily in English followed by Fr. Wayne Ball in Spanish. Fr. Begley had traveled to Charlottesville shortly after the tragic events and witnessed a solemn scene, but also expressed the belief that sometimes tragedy can bring people together and foster greater peace and reconciliation.
He quoted Nelson Mandela, who said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Love must be taught to all generations, starting as young as possible, Fr. Begley said. Embracing diversity is another important step to peace, he said. Through open dialogue, learning and understanding of other cultures that we can become one human family.
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School has students representing 16 different nationalities. “That’s a plus here at Our Lady of Lourdes.,” Fr. Begley said, “That’s one of our greatest gifts.” Our Lady of Lourdes, like many other parishes, offers programs that teach love and bring people together, such as Christian education, Bible study, work camps and vacation Bible school, he said. One of his favorite methods is through meals. “My experience standing in a meeting room with a microphone, cameras on, is not good dialogue. Meals, picnics, where you’re comfortable and not performing, that’s the best way for open dialogue,” he said. After Mass there was an opportunity for just that as a cornucopia of food was provided featuring dishes from all over the world. The feast highlighted the diversity found in our country – and our own parishes.
Fr. Ball said the events in Charlottesville offer an important moment for the Diocese. “We talk a great deal about the equal dignity of human beings but this is a particular moment in the Diocese for us to proclaim loudly and clearly that racism is against God’s design,” he said. He spoke of how unity is an overpowering message of the Bible from Genesis through the crucifixion of Jesus. From the very beginning humans were all made in God’s image, regardless of race or gender. All are children of God. In John’s gospel, one of Jesus’ final acts was praying to God that we “may all be one.” One of Jesus’ final thoughts was not of Himself, but of us, and His desire for us to come together as one in His name under God’s love. Still, some “abuse the Scriptures to twist the Word of God into a weapon,” said Fr. Ball, “It’s heartbreaking when you see the Christian faith used this way.”
Pam Harris, Director of the Office for Black & Asian Catholics, agreed. “America has progressed so far in regards to race relations but I feel that there is more work to be done and Charlottesville is a reminder of that,” she said. Ms. Harris emphasized prayer, both personal and communal, as a means to peace. Through prayer we truly communicate with God. She stressed, as did Fr. Begley and Fr. Ball, the importance of dialogue. “We can’t erase history but we need to learn from it,” Ms. Harris stated, “There are certain symbols that some communities interpret differently than others. It’s all about dialogue. We should be able to sit together and I explain my ideas and you should be able to do the same thing.”
All too often, atrocities like those in Charlottesville are front page news for a while, but then disappear. Ms. Harris said she hopes the Church will not let this issue become stagnant. “I’m hopeful we will have opportunities for everyone to come together and really be honest with ourselves,” she said, “We all need to be on the same level as children of God.”