BRIDGEPORT—In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, Father Reggie Norman, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton and vicar for the Apostolate of Black Catholics in the Diocese of Bridgeport joined Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and Steve Lee on the Veritas FM podcast Let Me Be Frank.

Father Reggie explained that the Black Apostolate was formed back in the 1960s when a lot of Black Catholics weren’t welcome in the mainstream church—many having to resort to worship in basements.

“One of the great things about Vatican II was that it allowed a lot of Black and African people who came from other cultures and celebrated differently to be able to express those cultural differences while serving God in the Catholic Church,” said Father Reggie.

Father Reggie explained that he sees it as his job to facilitate that. “There are a lot of Black Catholics who don’t necessarily worship at a parish but would like to come together for some feast days like Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Kwanza, Black History Month, and the feast of Pierre Toussaint.” He sees himself and the apostolate as a conduit to reach out to these individuals, as well as those who have left the Church for various reasons.

“Culturally, there are things that affect us as Black Americans who happen to be Catholic that we have to address as well,” said Father Reggie.

The Wilton pastor touched on how he has been working behind the scenes with a group of lawyers to help expunge the records of a lot of Black individuals, especially with the legalization of marijuana. He explained that there are a lot of people who have felonies and other criminal records that would have a better life if they were cleared up.

“But ultimately our job as vicars is the same for all of us.” Father Reggie continued,  “It’s to bring people of faith together, to celebrate and to be part of that big Church. It’s not little individual silos, but one big Church that may celebrate differently and look differently, but one God is serving us all.”

Father Reggie described America as a big pot of gumbo, rather than a melting pot. “It takes all different ingredients to make it taste good. They can still stand on their own, but together they make a dynamic gift.”

“I think that’s our other job—to show the non-black Catholics what it is we do and why we do it. And because there is a lot of things that we can offer the Church that they don’t even know exist and the history behind it,” said Father Reggie.

He went on to explain that when he gets down or in a bad mood the first thing he does is put on Gospel music and his mood immediately lifts. “Gospel music has a history all the way back to the slaves,” explained Father Reggie. “That’s how they endured—through that love of music that was soothing the soul and telling you that there’s a better way. And all of the Gospel music, even back then in slavery, led them to a higher belief in God. And God’s plan is in action. Don’t give up hope. And I think that’s why we’ve survived so long in some of the most difficult times, but we’ve never given up hope. And that’s one of the great things I love about the Black community. No matter the adversity, there’s always hope somewhere. We just have to tap into it.”

Father Reggie explained to listeners that there is great diversity within the Black American community. “They label us by our skin and they just put us all together, but the reality of it is when you say Black, you are talking about a really mixed pot.”

As the conversation went on about the treatment of these Black communities in America, Father Reggie touched on how racism diametrically opposed to God, because God said” love one another as I have loved you.” He continued, “Yet we operate here on earth as if we’re separate and there are different things. God loves all of his children.”

Father continued to unpack how the Church is in a hard position “no matter what the Church does, it’s going to hurt someone in someone’s mind because we, as humans, have developed the feeling that if you’re not doing what I want you to do, you’re wrong.”

Father Reggie said that often, we only hear the voices of those on extremely opposite sides and the voices in the middle get silenced. But it is important for us to respect and listen to each other, otherwise, there is no way to move forward.

Father went on to explain that there were many Catholic priests that marched alongside Dr. King, and a lot of social justice legislation came about because of the work of the Church. He cited the fact that in order to make a change, the person in the position of the oppressor has to grant it, and often the Catholic Church would have to step in and pressure the oppressor to do the right thing. Father Reggie lamented that now, the Church is split in so many different directions and is finding it difficult to fight for so many different things at once.

Bishop Caggiano agreed that “we need to speak clearly and we need to speak unequivocally about the sin of racism.”

The bishop and Father Reggie discussed the importance of having a dialogue and being open to new understanding. They continued on to discuss how racism is so ingrained in society that often people don’t even realize that is what is happening.

They discussed how Eurocentric conditioning had an effect on art and culture, which is difficult for people of color who have never seen God portrayed in their image. “One of the beautiful things for me is when I went to Africa, every place I went, Jesus was black. And what you see in some of my Black Catholic churches, if they’re all Black, they have a darker Jesus and the apostles as well,” said Father Reggie.

“You never know what someone’s been through unless you’ve walked in their shoes,” Father Reggie said. He explained that one of the things that he loved about Dr. King was that he always advocated for peace.

The bishop and Father Reggie discussed the talk that FatherReggie was invited to deliver at Sacred Heart University on January 17 on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death.

about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Father Reggie gave an overview of what he was going to touch on in his talk. “I plan to tell people is I love our country. But again, our country has a bad history that it’s never addressed. At some point you have to acknowledge that you’ve hurt people, and if you don’t acknowledge that they can’t be healed.”

Father Reggie said he planned on discussing what Dr. King would say if he was alive today, and what would the world look like? “I also want to end in hope because it is a college campus. I want them to be engaged to peacefully, to make the change and not to settle for anything less.”

“Let Me Be Frank” is a podcast/radio show from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and Veritas Catholic Radio featuring the Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport. Each weekly episode features Bishop Frank’s honest opinions about recent Catholic news, reflections on Sunday’s Gospel, questions from diocesan faithful, and frank discussion of topics of faith and Catholicism. The live version of the radio show broadcasts Wednesdays at noon on WNLK-AM 1350 radio. The podcast is posted shortly after the program concludes. You can subscribe and listen to podcast episodes anywhere you get your podcasts.

Click here for more information or to listen.

STRATFORD—It began as a simple conversation at St. James Parish about racism, a conversation at times unsettling but always illuminating, a conversation between people of different faiths and different ethnic groups. And from that discussion, which focused on the pastoral letter by the U.S. Bishops, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” a group of people from all walks of life gained a deeper understanding of the sin of racism.

The program attracted some 30 participants, who took part in Zoom sessions over seven months. They prayed together, they shared their personal experiences, they meditated and they reflected on topics that sometimes made them uncomfortable. But from that discomfort, they achieved insights into their personal lives and their parish community.

John Burlinson, who teaches Black and Latino students in Bridgeport, is personally familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and the experience at St. James proved enlightening for him.

“I realized I didn’t really know that much,” he said. “I thought I was well-versed in race relations but this opened a greater dimension of things I wasn’t aware of.”

During the program, people were able to tell personal stories that involved their families, their time in school and incidents they experienced…along with “the things they did or said that they weren’t proud of,” Burlinson said.

“Many of us remembered parents and grandparents saying, ‘We aren’t going to rent the house to any colored people,’” he said. “A lot of people grew up with that and it is part of the fabric of the American culture.”

The St. James “Open Wide Our Hearts” series was the result of a Foundations in Faith mini-grant made possible through the St. John Paul II Fund for Faith Formation, said Kelly Weldon, director of Foundations in Faith.

“They wanted the funding so they could launch a six-session study on ‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’ the 2018 pastoral letter, which addressed racism as a sin through a Catholic lens,” she said.

For Weldon, St. James Parish was an ideal starting point. “It has beautiful diversity and is made up of many ethnicities and cultures, and they had already begun a discussion on race,” she said.

The materials that were developed for the series are going to be posted on the Diocese’s Leadership Institute resource page so other parishes can borrow them and initiate their own programs.

“Every parish will have a different experience because they will have a different starting off point,” Weldon said. “They have created a real groundswell of interest and a desire to continue this work. Any anti-racism work is a lifelong journey, and the participants at St. James are committed to continuing.”

Weldon says parishes interested in launching their own anti-racism initiative should contact her at

She, herself, has been inspired by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano’s desire “to shine a light on the sin of racism.”

“He is one of the very few bishops who at the time were saying that we must all address this issue,” she said. “He also made a call to action and formed the Ad Hoc Committee on Racism.”

One of the first steps he took was to name Therese LeFever and Angie DeMello, both of whom are St. James parishioners, to the Ad Hoc Committee.

Both women, who originated the St. James program, are involved with CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut), which is committed to engaging in conversations and activities about race and equity.

CONECT is a “collective of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and civic organizations from New Haven and Fairfield Counties—representing more than 20,000 people from different races and faith backgrounds who have joined together to take action on social and economic justice issues of common concern,” she said.

A letter inviting parish participation said in part:

“While the Bible and our Catholic teachings have, for centuries, advocated against racism, we, as a faith community and as individuals are challenged with how to uncover and claim it, to talk about it and find a way to become anti-racist—essentially to eradicate it. We are experiencing a national and global spread of racist activity. The news is filled with it: The murder of George Floyd and the many other instances of police brutality; white supremacists driving through crowds of protesters; hate speech on every social media platform. The Black Lives Matter movement has elevated the deep-rooted need in our country to reckon with our history of racism and to change the structures that continue to oppress blacks and other people of color in our society. Racism is NOT genetic; it is a learned behavior—from our value systems, our cultures, our families, society, political administrations…. No one is exempt.”

LeFever said the St. James program attracted people of diverse beliefs—Catholics, Jews, Sikhs, Baptists and even atheists.

“This is a lived experience more than a ‘curriculum,’” she said, adding that future sessions will provide bias training and feature a former St. James parishioner who is a neuroscientist and has done research in the field.

LeFever, who is the cochair of CONECT, worked with DeMello on the program, which included, prayer, the meditative practice of Lectio Divina, Gospel and Scripture readings, and study of the bishops’ pastoral letter. The women also consulted with a leadership team from the parish to help formulate the weekly lessons for the larger group.

Participants were giving homework to prepare for the sessions, and then would break into small groups where they were encouraged to share what they learned before returning to the larger group to offer their insights, LeFever said. The sessions ended with a call to action.

“One thing we heard was that there were tensions in the group, and we had to talk about it and sit in that uncomfortableness,” LeFever said. “Some people even admitted, ‘Gee, I didn’t think I was that way.’ The format worked well even though the conversations weren’t always comfortable. But we didn’t want people to feel they were being ostracized or called out.”

LeFever says the desired outcome is for people to take those same conversations into their families and communities while simultaneously asking themselves, “How can I start to be that voice who speaks up for folks without being divisive or making that person feel less than?”

LeFever is the program manager at Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport, and she previously taught music at St. James and St. Gabriel parishes.

“We are entering into this work, bringing with us all our past,” she says. “‘Reckoning’ is a good word to describe it. How will we individually, and in our parishes and communities, help others to reckon and engage with others over the issue of racism so we can start to heal?”

“Reckoning” is the word used in the pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts”…to reckon with the past and come to a truthful space, she says.

“People say all the time, ‘I’m not racist,’ and I believe them,” LeFever said. “But some of the words we have used in the past and our actions are learned. They are part of our environment. We have these preferences—call them biases. How do you reckon with that and say, ‘That’s what my parents taught me because that’s what they grew up with.’ Like being taught to hold tight to my pocketbook when a black man walks down the street or to lock my doors or think a certain way. That doesn’t make my parents bad people. But it is not treating people with the dignity they deserve.”

Entering into this conversation with one’s faith community is especially beneficial, she says, because “more windows are open and you have the knowledge that folks are entering into it with love—and the understanding that we are all sacred and want to get to a place where everybody is also feeling that they are sacred.”

She also believes it is important for priests to be willing to say, “We have to focus on this. We have to make this a priority and completely engage the Church.”

The first step is to have the conversation, and eventually the process should lead to the desire to work for social justice.

“It is great that Bishop Frank is engaged in this,” she said. “It is one of those things you can’t dictate. There has to be a willingness of the people and an intentionality.”

Angie DeMello, who was co-chair of the St. James group, is also active in CONECT and a member of the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee on Racism. She believes their effort was truly the work of the Holy Spirit.

“We put together a leadership team of 10 of us and met and decided on a format,” she recalled. “I am committed to the work I do, and the Holy Spirit is a tremendous facilitator. Our meetings were amazing. I can only tell you it was God’s work being done. It isn’t easy to have this kind of conversation—about how we all played a role in creating this demon of racism.”

She believes that when we fail to talk about racism “we foster that sin.”

“Perhaps it is embedded in us culturally and our family systems,” she says. “It doesn’t really matter. We have all heard it somewhere along the line that we are better than others. The essence of white privilege is that you’re not even aware of it.”

DeMello said that many of the participants cried during the sessions, once they recognized the great divide that separated them.

“Why do we have to have this divide? We acknowledge it implicitly, and then we don’t talk about it…and society has given us permission not to talk about it,” she said. “We are thinking about systemic racism and personal racism and from an individual perspective, each of us has to come to an understanding that we are all racist and we lend to the badness of racism—not necessarily intentionally— and it will take a long time to unravel this fabric.”

The key, she says, is having the willingness to accept that we all play a part in it and mustering the willingness to change and create a culture of inclusion.

“We measure success by virtue of the fact that we have seen a heightened level of openness and people are eager to return to the next session,” she said. “A lot of our coming together is to express our feelings and realize we all share in each other’s lives.”

Betsy Redgate said, “The journey with OWOH has been an eye-opening experience for me. Before the pandemic, the violent events of this past year, and these sessions I had no idea what systemic racism entailed or how my own white privilege inadvertently contributed to the suffering of my brothers and sisters of color. Hearing their stories, reading the articles and watching the videos has been at times painful but so necessary if I am going to recognize, accept and take the needed action that will help to bring about the changes my heart and faith demand of me to end the injustices existing in our communities.”

Mary Tesla said her participation gave her a new perspective: “How I look at myself and also how I view others through the lens of my family and culture has become more clear.  I can see that real change can happen if I look inside and make a difference in how I perceive others, and then this will bear fruit in the bigger society of my family and friends…. I realize that my whiteness has segregated me and is a loss for me as much as it has hurt others, and I am finding a way to be a part of the solution.”

Ligia Masilamani said: “I’m very grateful that we were able to provide a venue to help people to open up about the topic of social justice and diversity. The smaller breakout group format enabled new and quiet members to speak up and share experience which left community people feeling heard. These few sessions gave a sense of progress around diversity and inclusion. We were able to create space for honesty, bravery and vulnerability.

John Burlinson said it was particularly moving to listen to people of color talk about their life experiences and engage in a continuing dialogue.

“Parishes have to find their own motivations to be able to do something like this,” he said. “It can’t be prescribed. It has to be people in the parish who say, ‘I want to do this thing, and I have people who will join me.’ The Church is definitely looking at the systemic nature of racism, and that’s a good thing.”

WASHINGTON – Following the verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota today, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development issued a statement.

The bishops’ full statement follows:

“Today, a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd. As we receive this result, we recall that God is the source of all justice, love, and mercy. The death of George Floyd highlighted and amplified the deep need to see the sacredness in all people, but especially those who have been historically oppressed. Whatever the stage of human life, it not only matters, it is sacred.

“The events following George Floyd’s death also highlighted the urgent need for racial healing and reconciliation. As we have seen so plainly this past year, social injustices still exist in our country, and the nation remains deeply divided on how to right those wrongs. We join our voices and prayers in support of Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and the entire Minnesota Catholic Conference which said today:

‘As a diverse community, the Catholic Church is committed to changing hearts and minds and to moving the conversation about race in this country beyond accusations and recriminations toward practical, nonviolent solutions to the everyday problems that are encountered in these communities.’

“Let us pray that through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, that God strengthens us to cleanse our land of the evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines. Let us then join in the hard work of peacefully rebuilding what hatred and frustration has torn down. This is the true call of a disciple and the real work of restorative justice. Let us not lose the opportunity to pray that the Holy Spirit falls like a flood on our land again, as at Pentecost, providing us with spiritual, emotional, and physical healing, as well as new ways to teach, preach, and model the Gospel message in how we treat each other.”

The USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism has prepared resources for prayer which may be found here; earlier this week, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda and priests across the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis offered special Masses “For the Preservation of Peace and Justice.” Last summer, several bishop chairmen of USCCB committees and the president of the Conference issued statements regarding George Floyd’s death in addition to the individual statements by bishops from around the United States.

STRATFORD—From classroom activities and research projects to creative videos and civil rights music, students at St. Mark School in Stratford are celebrating Black History Month and paying tribute to influential Black Americans throughout history.

The school has been recognizing Black American achievements and milestones that have shaped our nation by incorporating a variety of lessons in Science, English Language Arts, Music and Social Studies classes and through the school’s Social Emotional Learning program.

Second-graders are researching several distinguished historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges and Frederick Douglass, and sharing their findings with classmates.

Second grade teacher Stacey Zenowich comments, “Black History Month aims to inspire lifelong learning about the history, voices and experiences of Black Americans. The lessons are a powerful education of our past, an opportunity to appreciate the contributions of the present, and a chance to build an even more hopeful future.”

Middle School lessons included learning about poets such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman and watching films that portray obstacles of social injustices of racism and genderism.

English Language Arts teacher Danielle Veith shares, “I believe it is my responsibility to highlight stories and voices that have been previously overlooked or silenced and to uplift those who have been most marginalized by our society. I emphasize to my students that as a white woman, I will never truly have a full understanding of the experiences of people of color.”

According to Veith, she and her students will listen, learn and discuss these stories together, and challenge one another to both envision and carry out a better future than the histories we leave behind us.

Middle school science lessons included viewing the movie Hidden Figures, a story of three Black women scientists working at NASA in the early 1960’s who were instrumental in launching manned space flight.

Science teacher Lorie Boveroux remarks, “The film illustrates their triumph and shows how they used their God-given talents to better humanity and break down gender and racial barriers.”

Middle School students also learned about how music was influential in promoting the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.

Eighth-grader Olivia Szczerba shares, “Music has always been able to deliver powerful messages and show deep emotions, so the perfect time to sing would definitely be during a civil rights movement. Singing a song while protesting would be a way to come together with others, let go of anger and fear, as well as make a stand.”

“At St. Mark School, we want our students to see the value in diversity and the benefits of inclusion,” adds Principal Melissa Warner. “We aim to foster a genuine sense of empathy and compassion.”

According to Warner, the school-wide Social Emotional Learning program provides an additional avenue to highlight the school’s ongoing commitment to fostering dignity and respect for all people, in celebration of Black History Month.

Warner concludes, “In the words of Nelson Mandela, education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”

FAIRFIELD—Sacred Heart University’s new multicultural center celebrates diversity and provides an inclusive space for everyone in the SHU community.

The center officially opened in September with a small, socially-distanced, ribbon-cutting ceremony. Afterward, administrators and students marveled at the new space and admired artwork depicting various cultures and ethnicities. Located in the Main Academic Building, the center’s purpose is to bring people together.

“Thanks for showing your support and love,” said Robert Johnson ’16, ’17, director of the center and multicultural affairs. “This is a great step in the right direction.”

Johnson, a former SHU admissions counselor, is responsible for all inclusivity programs and services the center provides, including creation of an undergraduate mentor program. He said his primary objective is to establish the center as a place where underrepresented students can find a sense of belonging.

As an alumnus of color, Johnson said he remembers times when he didn’t feel like he belonged. Even though he was on the football team and in a fraternity, he wished there was somewhere he could go to share experiences with people like him, he said. “If underrepresented students have those feelings, I want to them to know that they can come here and they will be supported,” said Johnson.

President John J. Petillo said he believes the center’s mission of inclusivity will be carried out in all aspects of the University, especially student life. “I am confident of the role the multicultural center will have at Sacred Heart,” he said.

The center also will enable students, staff and faculty to make connections and learn about one another’s cultures and backgrounds. Johnson is working closely with campus organizations such as the Black Student Union and La Hispanidad. Leaders from both clubs were present at the ceremony and spoke about their excitement for the new center.

“My hope is to create a sustained change that will outlast us all,” Johnson told the audience. He encouraged the group to challenge themselves and confront their biases to help create that change.

Father Anthony Ciorra, vice president for mission integration, ministry and multicultural affairs, said the new center is place where all are welcome. “There are so many divisions in our country and in our world,” said Ciorra. “I don’t want to see divisions creep onto the University.”

After the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, guests continued to gaze at the art on the walls. Mary Treschitta, assistant professor and chair of the art and design program, was charged with designing the space. She believed the walls wrapped with impactful multicultural images of people from around the world should immerse its visitors. “That was my goal,” she said. “Before you walk inside the center, you are confronted with large colorful portraits, to really spark people’s interest. Then, as they walk in, the central mural really just strikes them.”

Treschitta carefully chose beautiful portraits of diverse individuals, which she assembled in a collage. Then she layered quotes from social justice warriors and leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., over the images.

The completed product is a technical feat, she said, as the installation was tricky to create. Visual Impact, a business in Danbury, owned by Bill McCann, that handles visual communication and installation, printed the images on large print-and-stick substrate. Then a skilled group of professionals applied the images to the walls and added the quotes. “The whole crew was excellent” and brought her vision to life, Treschitta said.

As people walk into the center, Treschitta said, the images pull them in. They can walk around the room, explore, engage and feel surrounded by multiculturalism, she said.

“I really loved this project and the final product,” she said. “We are truly all brothers and sisters on this Earth for a short time.”

To download an image, visit SHU’s Photoshelter archive.

BRIDGEPORT—“These are always challenging conversations,” Darius Villalobos acknowledged during his webinar on “how to have difficult conversations about race.” “It is now even more important that we are engaging in honest dialogue.”

Villalobos’ conversation was the sixth of several webinars titled “Conversations About Race” being hosted by The Leadership Institute, the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics.

Villalobos acknowledged that the challenges that we face as a Church and as a society when it comes to talking about race are ignorance, guilt and fear.

As many other speakers have stressed, Villalobos affirmed that anti-racism work is reflected in Catholic Social Teaching. He explained that racism is a life issue, and being pro-life means being anti-racist. “All lives have dignity because we are made in the image and likeness of God,” said Villalobos.

The speaker explained that Catholics have been addressing systemic issues as a Church for a long time. Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, the Catholic Worker Movement and Catholic Campaign for Human Development have been doing this work for years.

“Catholic means universal,” said Villalobos, “We are the most diverse religious community in the world and we have the ability to tap into the diversity in our local Catholic communities.”

“It is easy to recognize that this is a really big issue and we want to take action at the national level,” Villalobos explained. “But sometimes we forget that sometimes where these issues really come up is at the local level.”

Villalobos encouraged listeners to be in dialogue with community leaders, ministry leaders, coworkers and colleagues, young people, family members and friends, spiritual guides and directors, and ultimately ourselves about these issues.

“If we don’t speak up, there are other individuals in their lives who might give them a different perspective and be able to have influence over them,” Villalobos explained that we are going to have to have these uncomfortable conversations, as difficult as it may be.

Villalobos explained that it is important to engage in these conversations in a thoughtful, respectful, but prophetic way. “Invite people to think differently,” he said.

“Every conversation can be an opportunity for encounter,” Villalobos said. He explained that encounter is based in authentic relationship, and it is important to consider this when deciding who to engage in these conversations with.

“If you’re going to talk about race start with experiences,” suggested Villalobos. “Starting with stories allows us to listen to others and understand what they are saying.”

Villalobos explained the importance of really listening, instead of just listening to respond. “We have to be charitable,” Villalobos said, “we should allow others to ask questions and use that as an opportunity to explain and teach.” “In that sense of charity we can walk with one another and respect one another,” said Villalobos. “This is ongoing work that needs to be done.” 

“We cannot put the burden on BIPOC, especially those of the Black community to fix the problem of racism—we all have work to do in this,” said Villalobos.

Villalobos suggests that the focus of these conversations should not be based on guilt. He explained that it is important to center the voices of those most affected by racism, as they are often closest to the solution.

 Villalobos gave great advice for what one can do when having difficult conversations about race:

We need to resist the need to respond with a better or different insight about something. We need to be an ally. Being an ally is different than simply wanting not to be racist. Being an ally requires you to educate yourself about systemic racism in this country. Try not to repeat, “I can’t believe that something like this would happen in this day and age.” Ask when you don’t know—but do the work first—education yourself. Stop talking about colorblindness. Be about transformation, restoration, reparation and the Resurrection.

Quoting the Gospel, Villalobos said, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).

About Darius Villalobos

Darius Villalobos currently serves as the director of diversity and inclusion for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). He served in the Archdiocese of Chicago in a variety of ministry roles, including youth ministry, young adult ministry and catechesis. He is a graduate of DePaul University and is also a student at Catholic Theological Union. He has served as a parish RCIA director, liturgical music minister, retreat director, catechist and youth minister.

BRIDGEPORT—“Hopefully today is just another opportunity to grow together and have more effective action through conversation,” said Armando Cervantes, the fourth presenter in the webinar series of Conversations About Race hosted by The Leadership Institute, the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics.

Armando’s conversation was titled “Beyond Black: Multicultural Voices.” “Why is going beyond important?” Cervantes posed the question. “Because when we don’t go beyond we are complicit in continuing a way of thinking, a systemic racist model of continuing to not talk about it, engage in it and discuss it.”

Cervantes explained the feeling of “battle fatigue” from having to continually fight against racism. “In some ways I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired of having to talk about this issue,” he said. “But I am happy that you are here and willing to go beyond with me. Hopefully today we can acquire new strategies to deal with old issues and maybe unlearn a little bit of what we have learned.”

The speaker encouraged listeners to have the courage to go beyond fear and safety, take responsibility for the issues one may have, and to recognize one’s feelings, limitations, frustrations, responses, intentions and desires.

Learning from multicultural voices

Cervantes discussed the USCCB’s letter “Open Wide Our Hearts.” The letter explains that what is needed is a genuine conversion of heart—a conversion that will compel change and reform of our institutions and societies, and how Catholics and all people of good will are called to combat racism.

The bishops explain that our call is to listen and know the stories of our brothers and sisters. “We must create opportunities to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply imprinted on the lives of our brothers and sisters, if we are to be moved to empathy to promote justice,” the bishops write.

Beyond Listening: Loving Multicultural Voices

“God is calling me not only to listen and learn, He is asking me to love, to show genuine and authentic love to our brothers and sisters right in front of us—especially the marginalized and those on the peripheries, because those are the ones who Jesus in the Gospels would have gone after,” said Cervantes.

Cervantes discussed the USCCB document “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers.” The document urges us to seek intentionally a cultural understanding, to develop intercultural communication skills, to expand knowledge of obstacles that impede intercultural relations and to foster ecclesial integration rather than assimilation in church settings.

Cervantes explained that people are biased because of one of these three things: fear, ignorance or guilt. These are obstacles in really getting to know and love the other. “You need to be aware of these feeling and wish to get over these barriers in order to connect with someone else,” advised Cervantes.

Anti-Racism is the goal

“I challenge you, and I challenge myself, to get to the point of not just denying racism as a problem but promoting and advocating for anti-racism on a regular basis,” Cervantes said.

“When we are willing to be comfortable in the uncomfortable then we are able to be pushed beyond that fear to be able to understand and to get to the point of loving something that is different from me,” Cervantes explained that this is the invitation we all have.

Beyond Knowing: Living with Multicultural Voices

Cervantes urged listeners to address what biases one may have, what access one has that others don’t, if one is truly an ally to the BIPOC community and their stories, and if one is complicit in institutional forms of racism.

“We all have it in some capacity,” Cervantes said of these biases. “We all have been taught stereotypes. How do you and I fight against them and how do you and I break them by getting to know someone else?”

Cervantes explained that if one doesn’t know something about a particular community, it is their obligation to learn in order to break that stereotype. He urged that this can be done through sharing stories.

“The hope of today is to invite us to be thinking about our multicultural brothers and sisters,” said Cervantes. “More than ever we need these conversations. We need everyone to jump in, we’re not going to attack this problem in one day and in one moment. It is going to come from us doing it together.”

Cervantes encouraged listeners to walk together…to listen, learn and share with those who are different than us.

“The Emmaus story in Luke 24:13-35, that is Jesus Himself giving us the example of walking with someone, of radical, active listening, of sharing,” said Cervantes. “That is the invitation for you and I.”

Armando Cervantes
Armando brings over two decades of parish, diocesan, regional, national and international experience and leadership. Armando graduated from UC Irvine with a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences with an Emphasis in Public and Community Service. After receiving his master’s in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University, Armando received his Executive MBA from Chapman University. Armando was one of the co-masters of ceremony for Region 11’s Regional Encuentro and the National Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas.

(To register to join the “Conversation on Race,” visit the Leadership Institute: Click to view all of the resources and information about joining the conversation:

BRIDGEPORT—The first of several webinars being hosted by The Leadership Institute, the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics, titled “Conversations About Race” kicked-off Thursday featuring Sr. Melinda Pellerin.

“We are at a crossroads in this nation,” said Sr. Pellerin, “the choice of which path we take is ours. Where are we to go? As people of faith we need to rely on the Word of God.”

Sister explained that, as Catholics, the foundation of everything we do is Scripture. Much of Sister’s webinar was centered around the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well in the Gospel of John. She explained how at the time of Jesus many racial groups held preconceived notions about each other—therefore, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman shows just how much Jesus was willing to go to the peripheries. “John’s theme in the gospel is the foreigner, the outcast, the poor,”

Sister said. “Jesus enters into relationship with an outsider, a woman, a member of a minority group. This is our teachable moment. He sees this woman’s worth, there is no hesitation in his love for her humanity.”

Sister Pellerin did not hesitate to call out injustice. “Our black brothers and sisters have been persecuted in this country for over 400 years,” she said. “This is the African American legacy in the United States. We need to enter into the conversion honestly and speak out about race. We must be willing to engage. To meet one another where we are, to create our ‘Well’ experience.”

Sister stressed the importance of learning to see our neighbor as ourselves. “Engaging in dialogue is never easy,” she acknowledged.

As a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister Pellerin has a focus on right relationship with others. “We need to see the life in another person and realize that their life matters just as much as our life matters.”

“How do we move towards love of our neighbor?” Sister asked. “We must engage.” She explained that without proper knowledge, effective communication is not possible. “That is why I encourage you to all engage in these webinars. That is why we are all here today.”

Sister said that meeting our neighbor at the Well requires calling out racism for what it is—a sin. “Like the Samaritan woman, we unburden ourselves enough to begin to understand each other. We need to understand how deeply seeded systemic and structural racism is. The Church must ask how does racism play a part in the great divide, in the median income in two communities.”

During the Q&A session following the webinar, a listener asked what to say when an individual gives the response “All Lives Matter” to the statement “Black Lives Matter.” Sister responded, “If we really practiced ‘All Lives’ we wouldn’t be in the state we are today.” She followed up her statement saying, “we must all be willing to confront the hatred. The Church must speak out. Our Pope calls the struggle to end racism a pro-life issue, and that’s indeed what it is.”

When asked what one’s next steps should be, Sister said, “You must act for social justice. Transformation is a powerful thing. The Samaritan woman got up, went into town, and she preached.”

Sister implored listeners to read and learn from the perspective of people of color. “Your courage may cause you pain,” she said. “You may lose friends. Pray for those who may try to use your commitment to racial justice as a weapon against you. We must unconditionally stand for our brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano posed the question, “where is the face of racism in our own Church?”

Sister Pellerin stressed the importance of our Church leaders calling out racism from the pulpit.

At the closing of the webinar, Dr. Patrick Donovan, director of The Leadership Institute encouraged listeners to visit the Institute website for resources and recordings of each webinar.

The webinar series, produced by the diocesan Leadership Institute, features talks by teachers and pastoral ministers and will run through September 3. The talks will be live-streamed at 1 pm each Thursday and then rebroadcast at 7 pm each evening, with a question and answer sessions moderated by a member of the diocesan ad hoc committee against racism.

ABOUT SISTER MELINDA: Sister Melinda Adrienne Pellerin took her final vows of chastity, poverty and obedience Oct. 13 as a Sister of St. Joseph of Springfield after 10 years of discernment and formation during which her varied ministries included working with children in a day care in Kansas, starting a sewing program at a sober living house in Chicago and directing the SSJ’s Homework House in Holyoke.

She was baptized at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield and attended the former Holy Family Parish and School and the former Notre Dame High School. She earned a degree in history and secondary education at Annhurst College in Woodstock, Conn., and a master’s degree in educational technology from Lesley College.

A retired public school teacher, Sr. Melinda taught in Massachusetts at the middle and high school levels. She taught the International Baccalaureate Program at Springfield’s High School of Commerce and criminal justice at the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy. She also coached a mock trial team that was the first inner-city team to go all the way to finals in Boston, and in 2004 she was the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.

(To register to join the “Conversation About Race,” visit the Leadership Institute: Click to view all of the resources and information about joining the conversation:

Click here to view the recorded webinar.

By Elizabeth Clyons