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New racial justice ministry at Reston parish aims at healing divisions

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A new racial justice ministry at St. John Neumann Church in Reston is creating a series of programs to help parishioners become “a positive force for ending racism in our society and our church,” said parishioner Bob More, one of the coordinators.

“For most parishioners, racism isn’t a matter of conscious racial animus, but of unconscious attitudes and unexamined privileges,” he said. The parish is “overwhelmingly white and Anglo,” More added, but a few non-white parishioners are involved in the planning team. More than 75 parishioners have expressed interest in participating in the first set of programs, he said. 

In addition to exploring attitudes and culture, participants will learn “about the history and impact of policies producing racial disparities in our society, as well as the history and impact of racial injustices in our church. We need to do a lot of unlearning and new learning, and then put our faith into action,” More said. “In the process we want to make our parish more welcoming for everyone.”

The theme of the first group of programs is “Healing Division: Exploring Issues of Racial Justice in Our Society and Our Church.” Scheduled to take place on Zoom, it will have three main components. The first focuses on stand-alone parish events, such as films, lectures and discussions, including a virtual showing Sept. 11 of the film “Just Mercy,” and a talk Sept. 25 by Father Tuck Grinnell, titled “The Virus of Racism.”

The second component is a series of three eight-week modules using study, prayer, reflection and discussion materials from JustFaith Ministries, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and others. The first module, titled “Faith and Racial Equity” from Just Faith, will begin Sept. 12, followed by “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” in January and “Faith and Racial Healing: Embracing Truth, Justice, and Restoration” in April.

The final component will be the ongoing work of the parish racial justice ministry, which More said eventually will take on other initiatives, such as advocacy and ecumenical/interfaith engagement.

The tie-in between racial justice and Catholic social teaching will be a major theme of the programs, according to More. “The church says racism is a sin because it denies the inherent dignity of the human person, which is the bedrock principle of Catholic social teaching.” Other principles of Catholic social teaching are relevant as well, he added, such as the call to family, community and participation; the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable; solidarity, and more.

Although More said various parish ministries have had study groups, prayer vigils and other activities focused on racial justice in the past, it made sense to combine these activities into one ministry, especially in light of heightened national attention to race issues.

“All of these developments have given greater impetus to our racial justice initiative at St. John Neumann,” he said.

Find out more

For information on upcoming Racial Justice Ministry events, contact Jo-Ann Duggan at jduggan@saintjn.org.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020