BRIDGEPORT—“There is an urgent need to focus on the lives of Black people. We, as a Church, have the means to focus on the needs of the African American Communities without forgetting about the needs of other marginalized groups,” said Pamela Harris, president of the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators.
Harris was the fifth presenter of several webinars being hosted by The Leadership Institute, the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics.
Harris also serves as director of ethnic ministries for Diocese of Columbus, Ohio and as a consultant to youth ministers and religious educators across the nation.
“I am happy to have this conversation because it allows all of us from different backgrounds to come together and have honest conversation,” Harris said as she began her discussion on race and Catholic Social Teaching.
“As imitators of Christ, we are called to strive to live a life of holiness and be in right relationship with one another,” explained Harris. “It is easy to fall into despair with all that is happening in our nation…yet, through all of this, I remain hopeful.”
Harris explained that racism is complex, personal, institutional and systemic. “As a Church, we should be as serious about eradicating racism as we are about other issues,” said Harris.
Harris referenced 1 Corinthians, where St. Paul writes that we are all One Body in Christ. “We are the temple of God…the Spirit dwells in each of us and among us,” she said. Harris explained that, because of this, it takes a community to dismantle the sin of racism.
Harris discussed that racism is a pro-life issue, as it destroys the dignity of the human person.
Harris shared practical steps for eradicating racism—pray, acknowledge sin, have conversations (cross-racial dialogue), be open to encounter and new relationships, resolve to work for justice, educate ourselves, work in our churches, work to change structures, work for the conversion of all and have a commitment to life.
“It doesn’t have to be a conversation that comes from a negative place,” Harris explained that we all put ourselves in a vulnerable state to have these important conversations.
Harris shared a list of African American holy men and women who are on the road to sainthood for us to look to for help. “It is important to recognize the many different faces and cultures in our Church,” Harris explained.
Harris also shared that November is Black Catholic History Month—a great opportunity for us to celebrate the long history and proud heritage of Black Catholics.
She shared that moving forward, it is important for us to have honest, meaningful and productive dialogue that will lead effective action. “We need to be honest with ourselves and address any prejudices or biases we might have.”
During the Q&A session, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano thanked Pamela Harris for her talk, commending her for a very faith-filled focus. He stressed the importance of a “conversion of hearts” when it comes to racism. “We have to start with ourselves, with have to start with Christ,” Harris agreed.
“When it comes to social media and the news we get bits and pieces of it so it is hard to decipher who is doing what,” Harris addressed a question about how to reconcile looting and destruction that often accompanies protests.
“It is an unfortunate bias when we are looking at the media. You are going to have people who are going to take advantage of the situation. Sometimes it is all about the anger that has been manifesting for so long, which is unfortunate of course, but we have to focus on how we can be in the community and help people understand that the peaceful way is certainly the focus of more of us,” said Harris.
In discussing Catholic Social Teaching, Harris explained that “one great thing about Catholic Social Teaching is that there are action items to accompany each of them. We are the Catholic Church, we can equally address each one without holding any one of more importance than another.”
She discussed that one of the main focuses of Catholic Social Teaching is finding the right and most respectful way to ensure that everyone is safe and standing on equal ground.
About Pamela Harris
Pamela Harris is the director of ethnic ministries for Diocese of Columbus, Ohio and president of the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators. She has been instrumental in the conversations with youth ministers and religious educators and has been a featured guest with similar webinar series hosted by the NFCYM.