By Kevin O’Brien
A couple months ago, I joined a book club with friends. We are working through “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. I am learning. I am growing. I am being challenged. Since the killing of George Floyd, another book club of friends has sprouted up to read Father Bryan Massingale’s “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.”
I/we need to be active in listening, showing up to and participating in peaceful protests, challenging our policies, advocating with our leaders and elected officials, and combating microaggressions and racism in our daily lives and conversations.
Racism is often referred to as the “original sin” of our country. The last few weeks have made it painfully clear there is still so much to do. Saying Black Lives Matter is the Catholic thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. Simply saying it is also the bare minimum. The Catholic Church should be on the frontlines of demanding and working for change in our communities, demonstrating that Black lives do indeed have equal value.
Where are the Father Mottets? The Sister Concettas? The Father Hesburghs? The passionate activism they engaged in alongside laity and people of other faiths is sorely missed. This is not committee work or work for the few; it needs to be the work of the whole Church — and that means all of us.
Over the last several weeks, our nation has been engulfed in the largest conversation on race since the 1960s. I was interested in local response, so I read each of the bulletin messages from the pastors in Davenport and Bettendorf the last two weeks. It’s possible some homilies spoke to racism, but many of the messages in the bulletins didn’t even specifically mention racism.
Following the events in Charlottesville three years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released an excellent statement on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” Unfortunately, this major statement does not seem to have trickled down through parishes and schools. This statement is a starting point and can provide a framework for us, but it cannot simply remain as words. It needs to come alive. It needs to be implemented into a plan of action (see https://tinyurl. com/ybdtj3a6).
Our leaders need to pledge a thorough response to ensure the Diocese of Davenport is actively practicing anti-racism in its education and social action. The USCCB lists on its website lesson plans released in 2018 for every grade level (kindergarten through college) to combat racism. Are those being implemented? Something else? The curriculum on this subject at our Catholic schools and religious education should be interwoven throughout the year rather than only during Black History Month. Adult educational resources are available too on the USCCB and diocesan websites. The time has come to tell the world about Catholic Social Teaching. It should be no secret where the Church stands regarding racism.
(Kevin O’Brien, 31, of Davenport, is a member of Holy Family Parish and is a social worker.)