By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
CORALVILLE — A Prayer Vigil to End Racism, held last summer at St. Thomas More Parish, inspired creation of its Racial Equity Initiative, an ongoing effort to learn about racism and a commitment to being an inclusive church and parish. This year’s Lenten activities introduced the initiative to parishioners and the broader community.
The initiative evolved after the prayer vigil, organized in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 in police custody, and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed. The Pastoral Council, in turn, “wanted members to have an ongoing focus and conversation about the topic of racism and how it relates to our Catholic faith,” said Pastoral Council member Karen Grajczyk-Haddad.
A small committee explored how to provide the parish with learning opportunities about racism to better fulfill the parish commitment to being an inclusive church and a parish for all seasons, she said. Committee members Fernand Bila, Terry Conner, Grajczyk-Haddad, Kim Novak and Shirley Schneider have developed a webpage of activities and resources. They facilitate study and organize events.
The Lenten activities demonstrate how the Racial Equity Initiative interweaves learning opportunities into the life of the parish. Among the activities was Stations of the Cross focused on overcoming racism and helping individuals, families and communities to reflect on the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.”
Other Lenten offerings: a weekly, virtual gathering to pray, listen, study, reflect and respond to difficult questions related to the Catholic faith and racial equality, and encouragement to learn about and support minority-owned businesses and nonprofits. The study, based on “‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’ averages around 50 participants,” Grajczyk-Haddad said. “We’re going to keep offering this quarterly.”
“Too often issues of importance such as racism become hot topics but often lose the attention of the community or by those not directly impacted,” said Schneider, who serves on the Pastoral Council and co-chairs the initiative with Grajczyk-Haddad. Schneider encouraged the council “to make a more concerted effort to address racist beliefs, attitudes or behaviors within our own parish community and by extension in the communities we live.”
Schneider values the ideas and input of the initiative’s committee members. “St. Thomas More is a growing faith community with diverse members. It is important that we are a welcoming and safe environment for all who may come to worship at our parish.”
Grajczyk-Haddad is realistic about the initiative, saying it will take years of hard work to provide healing. “We would like to provide opportunities for personal growth (book studies, discussion groups), parish growth (assisting each of our parish commissions with resources to become better equipped to deal with the often hidden manifestations of racism), and community growth (including ways we can all work together to address systemic racism).
She believes the Catholic Church needs to be more explicit in “messaging on racial injustice and how we as people of faith need to prioritize it as an issue of life and human dignity. I am proud to be a part of a parish that believes anti-racism work should be a priority. I hope other parishes will replicate this.”
Committee members Novak and Bila share the committee’s hope for response to the initiative:
• Raise awareness. “We don’t often consider ourselves ‘racist,’ but are unaware of the experiences of others, history, and systemic racism that we are all complicit in. Culturally, we have to acknowledge that ‘Iowa Nice’ often means we are not being authentic with others and ourselves. We have ‘to see’ and hear the stories of our brothers and sisters first to be able to really understand where people are hurting.”
• Create a heart-centered desire to honor the dignity of all others that leads to action. “How do we move toward the culture of loving-acceptance that Jesus modeled? ‘The Beloved Community.’”
• Help people gain confidence and courage to lead needed changes.
• Provide a platform for people of color to share their experience on racism, lack of diversity in the Catholic Church, and to find resources for healing and renewal/strengthening of their faith.
Father Chuck Adam, St. Thomas More pastor, said he appreciates several things about the initiative. “First, that it came about after Pastoral Council discussions that focused on what people were feeling after a contentious summer with the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests. I appreciate that the discussions have been led by parish members and that an atmosphere of trust was created so that individuals could share how they have wrestled with racist attitudes from others and from within their own hearts. And, I appreciate that the reflection has been based on an important document from our U.S. bishops’ conference.”
“While this discussion series ends with Lent, there really is no ending point when it comes to being an ever more inclusive parish,” Father Adam said.
“That work is ongoing. One example of how the discussion is bearing fruit is that a consciousness about cultural inclusiveness has entered our planning for a new worship space. Ideas have surfaced about multicultural devotional images and depictions of saints who represent the heritage and races of minority parish members.”
To learn more
For more information about St. Thomas More Racial Equity Initiative, visit the webpage (https://www.stmparishfamily.com/st-thomas-more-racial-equity-initiative-). All are welcome to participate in activities.