By Tamara Laine
The hate-filled rhetoric and violent clashes that led to a senseless death in Charlottesville, Virginia almost two years ago are a grim reminder that racism is still very much alive in this country.
The deadly altercation prompted the nation’s bishops to issue a pastoral letter against racism called, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” It acknowledges what many refer to as ‘America’s Original Sin,’ and resolves to work towards its end.
The bishops also called on Catholics of all races and backgrounds to begin the difficult conversation about race, one that parishioners and Church leaders say is long overdue.
Brooklyn Bishop DiMarzio brought the fight home to Brooklyn by organizing a commission to study racism within the Church.
The newly formed commission presented its findings for the first time on June 18.
“All of these things need time to eliminate, it won’t happen overnight,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
“We need to change attitudes, change hearts, and understanding basically why we feel this way.”
After several listening sessions, the Commission on Racism and Social Justice shared its findings with parish priests from all over the diocese, highlighting the need for better communication, more participation between parishes, and a call for healing and reconciliation.
“Racism is an issue that at times is very difficult to discuss,” said the Commission’s Chair, Auxiliary Bishop Neil Edward Tiedemann.
“A day like today gave them resources, gave them a way and a method of dealing with racism within their own parishes,” he explained.
“Racism is not just a black/white issue. It’s an entire community issue to transform and change hearts for all eternity,” said Commission Secretary, Father Alonzo Cox.
One man who changed hearts and minds is Monsignor Bernard Quinn, the Brooklyn priest responsible for establishing the first African-American church in the borough, Saint Peter Claver. He was a relentless advocate for the rights of the disenfranchised African-American community in the early part of the 20th century.
“He was a Roman Catholic priest, a priest who was madly in love with Jesus, and it was this love that moved him to advocate for those who had no voice before the civil rights movement,” said Monsignor Paul Jervis, Postulator for the Cause.
Monsignor Quinn is now on the road to sainthood. His legacy was honored at evening vespers following the Commission’s forum on racism. His cause for canonization will now advance as Bishop DiMarzio accepted further documentation that will be sent to Rome for review.
“We dedicated this day to him, because he was our hero,” said Bishop DiMarzio at the vespers service.
“He was a saint. I’m sure in my heart that he was a saint. He really made a difference, and we look to him and pray to him that we can eliminate any vestiges of racism in our day.”