Racial Justice: A Lenten Challenge

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Early in the month of February, Bishop Caggiano wrote a post on Facebook reflecting on a talk he had given at a high school where a teacher respectfully challenged His Excellency on his word choice around racial justice. Bishop Caggiano concluded this post by saying that there is much he has to learn on the best ways to celebrate our unity as Catholics while still acknowledging our differences in a respectful and meaningful manner.

I applaud His Excellency for his vulnerability and humility in this post. It was not long ago that Catholics were discriminated against in this nation, yet there are many among us who still face discrimination and oppression due to their race and ethnic heritage. We have a duty as Catholics to stand for social justice, for it is through loving one another that we can do our part to end the cowardice of racism, which is all too prevalent in our nation today.

It is one thing to say we as Catholics stand against racism, and quite another to actually do so.

As Bishop Caggiano demonstrated in his post, it takes courage and vulnerability to admit when we may have said or done something that hurt someone else. But without courage and vulnerability we won’t make real change.

In a January Facebook post, His Excellency spoke of a conversation he had with a Black woman in our diocese whose family was denied membership in one of our parishes due to their race. Such a violent and sinful act on the part of this parish challenges us, as Catholics in good faith, to loudly and justly condemn such hatred. It is not always easy to be the first one to do so, but it is our obligation as followers of Jesus Christ to face these challenges with grace, love, and a sense of justice. When we find the courage to be the first one to stand up against racism, we will find others willing to take the stand with us.

Our challenge this Lent is to become a church that makes it clear that racism does not have a home here. Not only should we atone for instances of racism in our own pasts, both as individuals and as a church, we should also be proactive in educating ourselves so that we do not make these same choices again. Therefore, I have created a list of ways we can educate ourselves on racism through a Catholic lens. All materials listed here are created by and for Catholics. I hope that you may find it useful this Lenten season.

Emily Ciancimino is a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull as well as a student in the Master of Social Work program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. In one of her courses she was challenged to reach out to my community in some way to talk about racism.  She was inspired by recent Facebook posts of Bishop Caggiano, addressing racism through a Catholic lens.

5 Films to Watch

  1. Heart Challenges Hate: Let’s Talk about Race, a panel available on Sacred Heart University’s YouTube channel
  2. Enduring Faith: The Story of Native American Catholics, a documentary available on The Knights of Columbus’ website (as well as the newspaper Indian Country Today’s criticism of the documentary, available on their website)
  3. Anti-Racism, the Catholic Church, and the Sin of White Supremacy, a discussion available on Dominican University’s website
  4. The Black Church: This is our Story, This is our Song, a 4-part documentary available on PBS’ website
  5. Teach in Tuesday: American Indian Boarding Schools, the Catholic Church, and St. Thomas, a lecture available on the University of St Thomas Minnesota’s YouTube channel

5 Texts to Read

  1. Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle by Shannen Dee Williams
  2. 16 Black Saints & Advocates for Racial Justice edited by Mary Lenora Wilson, FSP
  3. Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity by Robert Chao Romero
  4. The Spiritual Work of Racial Justice: A Month of Meditations with Ignatius of Loyola by Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J.
  5. A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

5 Prayers to Pray

  1. Novena for National Unity and an End to Racism, available on The Knights of Columbus’ website
  2. Prayer for Racial Healing, available on Catholic Charities USA’s website
  3. Prayer to Address the Sin of Racism, Prayers of the Faithful against Racism, and Prayer to Overcome Racism, available on USCCB’s website
  4. Prayer to Saint Martin de Porres, the patron saint of racial harmony
  5. Prayer to St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking

5 Places to Check Out on Social Media

  1. The hashtag #BlackHistoryisCatholicHistory on Twitter
  2. Bishop Caggiano’s episode Race and the Church on his podcast Let me be Frank
  3. Black Catholic Messenger, created by Black Catholic laypeople and religious, an online publication available via their website, Instagram, Twitter, and Spotify, covering modern day issues through a Black Catholic perspective
  4. Follow Sister Norma Seni Pimentel, MJ, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, on Twitter and Instagram, where she serves migrants on the U.S./Mexico border
  5. Follow Catholics United for Black Lives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram