Mark Zimmermann,  Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The sin of racism must be recognized, confronted and overcome, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said in a new pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Racism Today.”

“Intolerance and racism will not go away without a concerted awareness and effort on everyone’s part. Regularly we must renew the commitment to drive it out of our hearts, our lives and our community,” the cardinal wrote in a letter dated Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, that was addressed to the clergy, religious and laity of the Catholic Church of Washington.

The letter from Washington’s archbishop comes at a time when racism issues and calls for racial justice have sparked protests on city streets, college campuses and even pro football fields across the country.

“The mission of reconciliation takes on fresh emphasis today as racism continues to manifest itself in our country, requiring us to strengthen our efforts. We are all aware of incidents both national and closer to home that call attention to the continuing racial tensions in our society,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote.

The cardinal added that, “It is our faith that calls us to see each other as members of God’s family. It is our faith that calls us to confront and overcome racism.”

‘Sin against neighbor’

He cited the story of creation from the Book of Genesis and Catholic teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the equality and human dignity of all people.

“What makes us equal before God and what should make us equal in dignity before each other,” Cardinal Wuerl noted, “is that we are all sisters and brothers of one another, because we are all children of the same loving God who brought us into being.”

Racism, he said, is a “sin against our neighbor” that offends God and goes against the unity of the body of Christ, a unity that all Christians share by means of their baptism.

The letter’s release coincides with the Catholic Church’s celebration of November as Black Catholic History Month. The cardinal noted how the “stain of racism” has affected people in every continent throughout history, often manifesting itself in marginalization, discrimination and oppression to indigenous people or newcomers.

But the cardinal added that “in our homeland, the most profound and extensive evidence of racism lies in the sin of centuries of human trafficking, enslavement, segregation and the lingering effects experienced by African-American men, women and children.”

Move toward healing
He noted that St. John Paul II in the Great Jubilee Year called for the recognition of sins committed by members of the church during its history.

“Today we need to acknowledge past sins of racism and, in a spirit of reconciliation, move toward a church and society where the wounds of racism are healed,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “In this process, we need to go forward in the light of faith, embracing all of those around us, realizing that those wounded by the sin of racism should never be forgotten.”

“At the same time,” he continued, “we acknowledge the witness of African-American Catholics who through eras of enslavement, segregation and societal racism have remained steadfastly faithful. We also recognize the enduring faith of immigrants who have not always felt welcome in the communities they now call home.”

Cardinal Wuerl opened his pastoral letter describing how he sees the diverse face of the Catholic Church as he celebrates Mass in churches throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. More than 620,000 Catholics live in the area covered by the archdiocese, which includes the city of Washington and the suburbs and rural countryside of five surrounding Maryland counties.

“On almost any Sunday, we can join neighbors and newcomers from varied backgrounds,” the cardinal wrote. “We take great pride in the coming together for Mass of women and men, young and old, from so many lands, ethnic heritages and cultural traditions. Often we can point to this unity as a sign of the power of grace to bring people together.”

He described the pioneering efforts of Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle. Soon after becoming Washington’s first resident archbishop in 1948, he began integrating Catholic schools in the archdiocese. This took place before the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that outlawed segregated schools.

Racism can be eliminated
Cardinal Wuerl said his pastoral letter underscored the Catholic teaching on racial justice and equality shared and expressed over the years by every archbishop of Washington.

Racism, the cardinal noted, continues to manifest itself in many ways, as it is experienced personally, in institutions or in society.

“Often racism is both learned from others and born of ignorance from not interacting with people who are from a different culture and ethnic heritage,” he wrote, adding, “…The pain it causes in people’s lives is very real.”

Cardinal Wuerl said people’s diversity enriches the Catholic Church and our world, and the response to Christ’s love should inspire Christians to work for solidarity.

“As we struggle to remove the attitudes that nurture racism and the actions that express it, we must show how the differences we find in skin color, national origin or cultural diversity are enriching,” he wrote. “Equality does not mean uniformity. Rather each person should be seen in his or her uniqueness as a reflection of the glory of God and a full, complete member of the human family.”

Cardinal Wuerl said the effects of racism on housing, employment, public education and the criminal justice system need to be addressed.

Religious faith has an important role, he added, in confronting the key challenges of today, especially in standing resolutely for the dignity of all human life.

Eliminating racism might seem “too great a task for any one of us or even for the whole church,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

“Yet we place our confidence in the Lord. In Christ, we are brothers and sisters to one another. With Christ, we stand in the spirit of justice, love and peace,” he said.

Editor’s note: To read Cardinal Wuerl’s pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Racism Today,” visit www.

Bishops told to acknowledge failings regarding racism

‘Change of heart’ required

Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE CNS — Though the Catholic Church has responded to racism for many years, some leaders and church institutions have at times been part of the problem, said a bishop who is heading a committee against racism.

Bishop George V. Murry, speaking to bishops gathered Nov. 13 for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fall gathering in Baltimore, said that while racism was not unique to the United States, it “lives in a particular and pernicious way in our country, in large part because of the experience of the historic evil of slavery.”

Bishop Murry, who became the head of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism earlier this year, said the church must recognize “and frankly acknowledge” its failings.

The country has tried to address the problem before, he said, and yet, “even with that progress, one does not need to look very far to see that racism still exists and has found a troubling resurgence in modern years.”

Christ calls us to break down the walls created by the evils of racism, he said.

Though African-Americans have suffered intensely from “the sin of racism,” racism also has ravaged lives and livelihoods and many people of other races, he said. Its targets seem to be growing.

The committee he heads, he said, is working to provide pastoral accompaniment and one way is to listen to the “voices of people suffering because of racism.”

Created by the U.S. bishops in August, the committee will have listening sessions and create and disseminate theological, liturgical, pastoral and community resources. The committee, he said, is also looking at ways to best commemorate the 50th anniversary to the assassination of civil rights icon, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bishops chimed in with comments and suggestions.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, whose retirement as head of the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, was recently accepted by Pope Francis, suggested that the bishops take “symbolic actions,” much in the way other church members have taken at events such as Masses on both sides of the southern border.

“Racism isn’t going to be conquered by speech but by actions,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta.

Bishop Murry said the committee’s efforts also will focus on evangelization geared toward healing and reconciliation, toward conversion of those who harbor racist beliefs and who commit racist actions as well as caring for the victims of racism.

“All of this is aimed at one goal: to change hearts, which will lead to a change in behavior because every human being is created in the image and likeness of God,” he said.

While on the committee, he said, he has heard certain comments.

“Some people think that there’s no need to confront racism or that we should confront it only in private,” Bishop Murry said, but confronting racism “is necessary because the Gospel calls us to work for justice, and racism denies justice to people simply because of their race — and that is morally wrong.”

Much work has already been done, but there is much more to be done, he said.

“Racism has lived and thrived in various ways for far too long,” he said. “As a result, our efforts to root it out will not succeed overnight. Yet, the church’s contribution at this time is vital.”