Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

U.S. Bishop Chairmen Statement on Verdict

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.

Sacred Heart opens new multicultural center

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.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger

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.

Listening, learning from, and loving multicultural voices

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: www.formationreimagined.org. Click to view all of the resources and information about joining the conversation: www.formationreimagined.org/conversations-about-race-main.)

Conversations About Race: Sr. Melinda Pellerin

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: www.formationreimagined.org. Click to view all of the resources and information about joining the conversation: www.formationreimagined.org/conversations-about-race-main.

Click here to view the recorded webinar.

By Elizabeth Clyons