Are You Aware of a Catholic Pastoral Letter on Racism

by Sister Kathleen on January 11, 2011

Anticipating Martin Luther Day and February’s Black History Month, Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on the Catholic document, ‘Brothers and Sisters To Us’, a pastoral letter by the U.S. Bishops on the issue of racism.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Greenwood, MS

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy offers pertinent points from U. S. Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter 'Brothers and Sisters To Us'.

In the minds of many, the most commonly recognized ethnic culture in our country is that of the African American. As a group they have been more visible and more vocal than many other groups, particularly during the Civil Rights era of the 60’s. Let’s consider the Church’s document, Brothers and Sisters To Us, a pastoral letter by the U.S. Bishops on the issue of racism in our country.

The letter is far from new, but it still holds many pertinent thoughts as we call to mind the struggle against racism which has been led by our African American brothers and sisters.

Many hold the opinion that we have conquered the affliction of racism in our American culture. The bishops address this stance saying: “We do not deny that changes have been made, that laws have been passed, that policies have been implemented. But neither can it be denied that too often what has happened has only been a covering over, not a fundamental change. Today the sense of urgency has yielded to an apparent acceptance of the status quo. The climate of crisis engendered by demonstrations, protest, and confrontation has given way to a mood of indifference; and other issues occupy our attention.”

Peace Day Banner St. Francis of Assisi School, Greenwood, MSThe bishops see economic justice as directly related to racial justice. They write: “We are entering an era characterized by limited resources, restricted job markets and dwindling revenues. In this atmosphere, the poor and racial minorities are being asked to bear the heaviest burden of the new economic pressures…Because it is less blatant, this subtle form of racism is in some aspects even more dangerous–harder to combat and easier to ignore. Major segments of the population are being pushed to the margins of society in our nation.

Perhaps we wonder what the issue of racism has to do with the Church. The bishops tell us: “Racism is the sin…that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. The sin is social in nature in that each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices. How great, therefore, is that sin of racism which weakens the Church’s witness as the universal sign of unity among all peoples! How great the scandal given by racist Catholics who make the Body of Christ, the Church, a sign of racial oppression! Yet all too often the Church in our country has been for many a ‘white Church’, a racist instituion.”

A million blacks make Catholicism one of the largest denomonations among black Americans today. Striving to become more aware of the needs and trials of the African American community, we keep in mind the bishops’ challenge: “There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing for bygone times for privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another age. For we are children of the age to come.”

Care to share your thoughts?

6 thoughts on “Are You Aware of a Catholic Pastoral Letter on Racism”

  1. Lrizzo1950 says:

    Through a child's eyes we are all one race, equal in every respect. Racism does not exist among the little people of God.If only the Adult world could perceive through the child's eyes for only one day, then Racism would be eradicated from the face of the earth. Let's continue to pray that this will the our hope for the future.

  2. Srosangela says:

    I am sad to say that I did not know about the Catholic Pastoral letter on Racism. I am grateful Sister Kathleen has brought it to my attention and for the work she is doing with the children. May all of us continue to be aware of racism in its various forms, to guard against it and to influence others.

  3. Smkolbe says:

    Thanks, Sr. Kathleen, for dusting off this letter (from the late 1970's maybe?). You've inspired me to want to re-read it in its entirety. Perhaps the Bishops were right to have perceived that the laws and policies enacted up to that time were indications of a “covering over” as opposed to a “fundamental change”. Among the many causes for racism in the human heart, I tend to put ignorance at or near the top of the list. An “empty mind” cannot help but be afraid of that which is different than itself, and fear almost naturally leads to hostility. This is one of the reasons I believe that the intellectual and cultural heritage (“cultural” here is meant in a wider sense than “ethnic”) we hand on in our schools is of such value. And this conviction renews my committment to the study with which I have been entrusted these years. Thanks again . . . “di cuore”.

  4. Sister Monica, novice says:

    Thank you, Sister Kathleen, for your reflection on “Brothers and Sisters to Us.” I didn't know that this document existed, and I would like to read it! I just loved all that you reflected on and quoted from it. The bishops are so wise and true to acknowledge that just because the Jim Crow laws are gone, doesn't mean that racism is over. This reality is oftentimes observed in a trip to the Southern states, but overlooked and ignored in the Northern States, where racism is still very much apart of society.

    I also liked what the Bishops had to say about our own sin: “the sin is social in nature in that each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices. ” We all carry within us prejudices that we must continuously and humbly acknowledge and challenge. If we pretend that these prejudices are not there, then we allow them to remain, affecting how we view others and ourselves.

    There is a wonderful program called the “Institute for Healing Racism” that I hope will grow to be a nationwide program.

  5. Today is the 25th Martin Luther King Day. Our Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Greenwood, MS were part of a Sunday march with leaders of the black community. We continue to pray for peace and all good for each person we walk with every day.

  6. Smaryfrances says:

    Last summer we had a program that showed just how different we really are from one another….not even one chromosome. I was not aware of the Pastoral Letter either. However, being exposed to our foreign Sisters here at the Motherhouse has given me a sense of how far we have come and how far we still must go to make this a world of one people, all the same in the eyes of God.

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