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Bishops form new body to address 'sin of racism' that 'inflicts' nation

Saying there is an "urgent need" to address "the sin of racism" in the country and find solutions to it, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and named one of the country's African-American Catholic bishops to chair it.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, initiated the committee Aug. 23 "to focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions."

He appointed Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education, to chair the new ad hoc committee.

"Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to inflict our nation," Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. "The establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the church and our society to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one another as brothers and sisters."

The naming of members to serve on the new body will be finalized in coming days, the USCCB said in an announcement. It added that the committee's mandate "will be confirmed at the first meeting, expected very shortly."

"I look forward to working with my brother bishops as well as communities across the United States to listen to the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long," Bishop Murry said in a statement.

"Through Jesus' example of love and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over the past weeks and months as a nation. Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I'm hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society."

The new ad hoc committee also will "welcome and support" implementation of the U.S. bishops' new pastoral letter on racism, expected to be released in 2018. In 1979, the bishops issued a pastoral in racism titled "Brothers and Sisters to Us," in which they addressed many themes, but the overall message then as today was "racism is a sin."

Creation of a new formal body that is part of the USCCB -- formed on the USCCB Executive Committee's "unanimous recommendation" -- speaks to how serious the U.S. Catholic Church leaders take the problem of racism in America today.

It is the first ad hoc committee the bishops have established since instituting the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in 2011 to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America. The federal governments mandate that all employers, including religious employers provide health care coverage of artificial contraceptives and abortifacients was one of the key issues that prompted formation of the committee.

Chaired by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, that body was elevated to full USCCB committee status during the bishops' spring assembly in Indianapolis this past June.

In addition to the Executive Committee's recommendation, the USCCB said, the decision to initiate the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism also was made in consultation with members of the USCCB's Committee on Priorities and Plans.

The formation of the ad hoc committee also follows the conclusion of the work of the Peace in Our Communities Task Force. The task force was formed in July 2016 by then-Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who was then USCCB president. He initiated it in response to racially related shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as in Minneapolis and Dallas.

To head it he named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, one of the nation's African-American prelates who was the first black Catholic bishop to be president of the USCCB (2001-2004).

The task force's mandate was to explore ways of promoting peace and healing around the country. Archbishop Kurtz also wanted the bishops to look for ways they could help the suffering communities, as well as police affected by the incidents.

On Nov. 14, 2016, during the USCCB's fall general assembly, Archbishop Gregory told the bishops to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism.

"A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is increasingly important at this time," said the archbishop in reporting on the work of the task force.

He said the president of the bishops' conference and relevant committees need to "identify opportunities for a shorter-term statement on these issues, particularly in the context of the postelection uncertainty and disaffection."

He also urged prayer, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogue, parish-based and diocesan conversations and training, as well as opportunities for encounter.

The bishops' 1979 pastoral, now in its 19th printing, declared: "Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father."
 
  • Published in Nation

Poor but ‘never alone’

At a Mass packed mostly with immigrants, Washington, D.C., Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville tried to get the crowd to focus on the plight of the Holy Family.

They had no home, he said. Many closed their doors to them when they were seeking shelter and running from persecution, he said. But he reminded them also of God’s promise.

“We might be poor, but we’ll never be alone,” Bishop Dorsonville said to those in the pews, some who were likely facing similar situations.
At a weekend Mass to mark the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he assured them that God and the Catholic Church would be with them “in these difficult moments.” Millions, he acknowledged, are waiting for relief in the form of immigration reform. But with a president-elect who made campaign promises to form “deportation forces” and remove 11 million immigrants, many faced 2017 with trepidation.
 
The landscape for immigrants in 2016 already had been a rough one. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court States deadlocked on a case dealing with plans by President Barack Obama to shield 4 million from deportation through executive action. Without being able to break the 4-4 tie, the high court essentially left in place an injunction blocking the immigration policy from being implemented.

Various polls also reflected an increasing reluctance by some groups in the country to welcome immigrants from the Middle East. The Brookings/Public Religion Research Institute Immigration Survey, released in June, showed that while 58 percent of Americans surveyed opposed a temporary ban on Muslims from other countries entering the U.S., non-white Americans were the ones most opposed.

“Close to half (46 percent) of whites express support for a temporary ban on Muslims coming to the U.S.,” the survey said, “while only 30 percent of Hispanics and 25 percent of blacks support a ban.”

Some say these views in part helped President-elect Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, win, since they were able to mobilize those who felt fears and concerns about immigrants from Latin America and Muslims.

But just what will happen after Trump takes over the presidency remains a mystery. In a TV interview shortly after his election, he said he would deport 2 million to 3 million “people that are criminal and have criminal records” but didn’t mention the 11 million in the country without legal permission that he had originally quoted as deportation targets. He also removed his call for a “Muslim ban” from his website shortly after winning the presidency.
In a recent Time magazine interview, after the publication chose him as “Person of the Year,” Trump said he is “going to work something out” on childhood arrivals, young people who were brought into the U.S. as children by their parents but have no legal documentation.

Using executive action, Obama in 2012 created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, which allows certain undocumented young people to have a work permit and be exempt from deportation.

More than 720,000 have been approved for the program. In November 2014, Obama took executive action to expand DACA to allow more young people to benefit from its provisions. He also implemented a program for parents of citizen children — the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA.

Trump said he would end these policies. Some who meet the qualifications to apply for the DACA have not done so, fearful of what the new administration could do to them and those who already have enrolled. But in the December Time magazine interview, Trump said some of the youths were good students, some have wonderful jobs.

“And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, adding that “we’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.”

Trump also correctly noted during the campaign that President Obama’s administration has been fierce on deportations. The Department of Homeland security, which tracks the number of people deported each year, says from fiscal years 2009 to 2014, there have been more than 2.4 million “removals.”
But Catholics groups that work with immigrants, such as Washington’s Faith in Public Life, say they are concerned about what Trump said as a candidate and they vowed in a statement to continue “advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, and will continue to work with leaders of both parties to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their status, are treated with dignity and respect.”

Others joined the organization in the statement, including Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, who said: “We are deeply concerned by threats and proposals — such as the increased use of detention and deportation.”

Such attitudes, he said, sow fear, and “threaten the unity and well-being of families and communities. Instead, we call on the Trump administration and Congress to develop and uphold humane policies that honor the dignity and contributions of those among us who live at the margins of society.”
The U.S. Catholic bishops have not directly spoken out against Trump and what he said while campaigning, but they have voiced their support for immigrants. They declared the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day of prayer with a focus on the plight of refugees and migrants.

“To all those families separated and far from home in uncertain times, we join with you in a prayer for comfort and joy this Advent season,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recognizing in a statement addressing the uncertain future many are fearing.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., addressed a letter to those “who at the present time find themselves in a miserable condition because of a change of the administration of our nation which has threatened many with deportation.” Walls are not solutions, he said, and deportations do not guarantee the country’s security.

California Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton also called attention to similar fears and to racism.

“The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States,” he said. “Many have friends and family members who are without papers. Many are without papers themselves. Children in school are being bullied and young immigrants who signed up for DACA are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation.”

Racism, too, “has raised its ugly head in many communities,” Bishop Blaire continued.

“I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you,” he said. “You are the Church. I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets.”

“I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our interfaith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way,” he said. “The way of God is the way of love.”

Alejandra Catalan, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of the Americas in Washington, said she felt the support the Archdiocese of Washington and the Church in general was trying to convey during Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The reality for immigrants is difficult as Bishop Dorsonville pointed out, she said, but as she stood Dec. 10 with her husband, Francisco, and son Samuel at Washington’s Marian basilica, all dressed in indigenous clothing to honor the Virgin, she said she could only depend on one thing: faith.
 
 
  • Published in Nation
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