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‘The work isn’t over,’ says Cardinal Gregory at diocesan racism conference

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God created diversity — and the healing of our nation’s racial divisions “will depend upon our ability to recognize diversity as a positive reality,” said Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory at a diocesan conference March 20 on confronting the sin of racism.

While some people suggest we should be a “colorless” society, “it is good that we are not all the same,” said Cardinal Gregory, a Chicago native who converted to Catholicism as a child while attending a Catholic elementary school. He was archbishop of Atlanta before being named archbishop of Washington in 2019 and became the nation’s first African-American cardinal last year.

“It is part of the great mystery first revealed in the Book of Genesis, where the ever-creative God fashions a whole universe with splendid variety and repeatedly pauses in the midst of his creative accomplishments to make an obviously self-satisfied reflection that ‘it was very good!’

“Part of the message of our Judeo-Christian religious heritage is that God’s elegant wonder is best experienced in the diversity of his creation,” Cardinal Gregory said. “Our national unity is not predicated on all of us being exactly alike so much as it is on sharing common goals, a national purpose and an acceptance of our differences as an advantage rather than a liability.”

The conference, held at the Church of the Nativity in Burke, was sponsored by the diocesan Peace and Justice Commission and was titled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.” The name comes from the title of the pastoral letter against racism issued by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2018. The conference, part of an ongoing effort to address racism, was scheduled for last year but postponed because of the pandemic. In-person attendance was about 100 people with social distancing; more than 900 viewers tuned in to the livestream. 

The event began with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gregory and concelebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Father Robert C. Cilinski, Nativity’s pastor. Father Cilinski is chairman of the Peace and Justice Commission and the Bishop’s liaison on the diocesan Advisory Council on Racism that Bishop Burbidge created last October. 

Cardinal Gregory said he may be “preaching to the choir” when he accepts “invitations like this one to speak to people who are so obviously already convinced of the importance and value of racial healing.” But he said “the task of peacebuilding here and in too many other communities is yet to be achieved — and even the choir needs a good rehearsal or a practice now and then. Racial healing is an aspiration that will only be possible because of the ceaseless attention of all people of good will who believe in the value and significance of living harmoniously in a multiracial, multicultural society.”

Cardinal Gregory titled his address “Seeing with the Eyes of Christ,” and said the Catholic Church “has the responsibility to call all of our people to see with the eyes of Christ. We are obliged to challenge our society and any institution within society that supports, defends, or promotes racism or intercultural hostility. An important component of our Christian identity is our ability to be peacemakers.”

He said our nation “professes some of the most noble and civilized ideals of human equality ever recorded in history… but we are still becoming a nation that actually lives what it preaches. Within the past few days, we have been faced with the hatred and violence that Asian-Americans have endured with increased intensity since the beginning of the global pandemic, and now the horrific killing of Asian women in the Atlanta community reminds us that we still have serious racial problems that continue to plague our national harmony and unity.”

He spoke about the sacrament of reconciliation and said “we need a comparable regional and national reconciliation — a healing of America’s soul from the torment of oppression and hatred. 

“Sad to say, we do not really know how to speak to one another. We are still clumsy in introducing issues of race into our conversations. We may also be quick to take offense. Our awkwardness and our easily offended feelings are merely the veneer over generations of mistrust of, ignorance of, and fear of one another.

“We need to forgive one another for all of those things that belong to the past so that we can move into a better, more hopeful tomorrow,” he said.

During the question and answer session after his address, Cardinal Gregory noted that while progress against racism has been made in recent years, “the work isn’t over.” 

Bishop Burbidge pointed out the importance of continuing to listen to one another. “One of the most powerful experiences in my time here has been the listening sessions that we had,” when parishioners from the diocese shared their experiences of racism. “Not only was it very real for people not that long ago, but sadly, even so today, even within our own schools and churches. While that is so difficult to hear and makes us all sad, it motivates us to stand up and be proactive in seeking that justice.”

Cardinal Gregory said he sees the younger generation as a sign of hope. “I take great comfort when young people increasingly have been willing to take public and often controversial stands to ensure that our tomorrows will be better than our yesterdays. We must demand only the best from ourselves, and you look for others who will follow to improve upon your progress.”

Three diocesan parishioners participating in a panel discussion were Emelda August of Holy Family Church in Dale City who works with her parish’s Black History and Heritage Outreach Ministry; Alexandra Luevano, program director of the Catholic Charities Mother of Mercy free medical clinics; and José Aguto, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant. 

Find out more

View the recording of the conference livestream at youtu.be/0s8tvSWkcu4





© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021