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3 Ways to bridge divided communities

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Throughout the weekend, I could hear the chants and shouts of protestors calling for justice in the police killing of George Floyd as I played with my children in our backyard. Sunday night, police used tear gas to disburse a crowd gathered in front of the local police station. Some in the crowd were reported to have thrown rocks and turned over trash cans. This occurred less than a mile from our house. Our community, and our country, which has already been pushed to the breaking point from the emotional toil of COVID-19 and more than two months of stay-at-home orders, has erupted in pain and anger and flames. I was asked by a colleague how I feel in the midst of this storm. I am tired. I am outraged at a disregard for human life. I am pained by the conflict and bombastic rhetoric and the inability to work together for positive change. I am worried for the safety of my family, friends and those in our community. I am ashamed that we, as a nation, have not done better. I am numb.


And I have hope.


We as Catholics, along with all people of good will, are called to act. We see played out before us the division between communities in our diocese and our nation. And I believe there are three ways we can address this division.

Act First with Love


We must first act with love and charity for all around us. While there may be some protestors who are inciting or committing violence, the vast majority are engaging in peaceful demonstrations driven by the grief and anger of injustice. People have the right to express their opinion, in healthy and appropriate ways, and they must be able to do so if our country is to move from grief to healing. From a perspective of faith, our response can flow from the four key elements of Catholic social teaching, which begin with respect for human dignity and the principle of serving the common good. We recognize that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, and thus each person’s worth, value, and dignity is given to them by God. Any attitude or action that rejects the fundamental equality of all persons is gravely immoral, the catechism notes. And through our commitment to the common good, we recognize that we must stand for the good of all individuals and families in our community. We cannot elevate one group at the detriment of the other. In order to create a culture where people flourish in the common good, we must actively champion all pro-life actions. We must object to brutality, racism and murder of all persons — born and unborn. And we should embrace the right to peacefully and safely stand against all actions that oppose the dignity of life.  Solidarity and subsidiarity, the final two principles of Catholic social teaching, undergird our responsibility to walk with those who are in need, vulnerable or treated unjustly, while recognizing that those closest to the need — sometimes the persons themselves — must take responsibility for what they can reasonably do, to do good for others and themselves.


In this case, two key questions must be asked: Is our law enforcement system taking responsibility to make necessary changes to uphold the rights and safety of citizens? And are we, as a society, taking responsibility to end racism and injustice in all its forms?


When we strive to act with love for our neighbors, we are setting down a strong foundation for dialogue and community. If we want to heal divisions in our community, we must first begin by caring about its members.


For those of us with children, we want to discuss this situation with them, albeit in age-appropriate terms. As parents we want them to understand the pain that injustice causes, the suffering we all experience when a group is the victim of systematic oppression. This is a moment to teach them the foundational principles of Catholic social teaching that stand in stark contrast to acts of racism and oppression. As Catholics, we have a responsibility and means to work toward strengthening our communities.

Focus on Your Own Actions


In times of unrest, it is easy to judge others or make sweeping statements about character or intentions. This is not helpful. If someone has broken a law, our legal system will judge them — not us. If someone has sinned, they must answer to God — not us. We cannot control what other people say or do or feel or think. But we can act to influence others in positive ways. We can, and should, work to correct societal wrongs.


You may be angry at the actions and comments of others. You have every right to feel what you feel. But don’t descend into condemnation, harassment or provocation of others. This includes things we do and things we say, whether to another person or online in a comment section or social media post. Hold yourself to the highest possible standard. We can condemn actions; we should not condemn people. Consider this before acting — is the thing I’m about to say or do going to improve the situation? Will it bring peace? If not, then it’s probably better left unsaid and undone.

Reach Out


Finally, reach out to those in your community impacted and victimized by this tragedy. Now is the time to ask how others are doing as we are bombarded with images of hate and rage. Now is the time to express respect and support for the oppressed among us.


Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said in a recent statement that we should “work together in restoring justice, peace and harmony throughout our nation and in all of our communities.”  This means that Catholics of all backgrounds must come together to change the systems and institutions that do not respect all persons as being equal and created by God. If we seek to span the gaps that divide communities, we must strive to build bridges, unafraid of those who embrace hate, racism, and violence and would seek to burn those bridges or destroy the future they represent.


Horne is director of clinical services for diocesan Catholic Charities.

Find out more


To make a teletherapy appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor, call 703/859-3147 or 703/447-9402.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020