Wuerl Pastoral Urges Catholics To Confront Racism


cardinal wuerl

Cardinal Wuerl.

Released in November 2017, “The Challenge of Racism Today,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s timely, welcome, and important pastoral letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington urges them to confront “the persistent evil of racism,” with renewed energy and dedication.

The Cardinal asserts today’s divisions are “not part of God’s plan.” He reminds believers all men and women were born in God’s image, and as such, possess an indispensable human dignity. Equal in dignity in God’s sight, we’re called to live as brothers and sisters in the same human family.

Racism is a sin because, as the US Bishops’ 1979 pastoral letter “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” says, it “divides the human family,” and “blots out the image of God among specific members of that family.”

More than fracturing the solidarity that ought to exist among people, racism is also a sin because, Wuerl says, it supports sinful “systemic social, economic, and political structures.”

The pastoral correctly asserts, racism manifests itself in several guises: personal, institutional, and social. And working to overcome racism requires we change the “attitudes that nurture” it in our own hearts and in our neighbors’ hearts and “the actions that express it.”

Working to overcome racism, Wuerl believes, should lead to greater human unity, which nonetheless acknowledges “each person should be seen in his or her uniqueness as a reflection of the glory of God and a full, complete member of the human family.”

To promote the unity, which disavows racism, Wuerl urges the faithful to “move to the level of Christian solidarity,” a fundamental and ancient Catholic principle, which reflects our persistent “commitment to oneness at work.”

To manifest their renewed dedication to oneness, the Cardinal wants Catholics to embrace Pope Francis’ challenge to promote a “culture of encounter, respect, understanding, and mutual forgiveness.”

Beyond our own hearts and homes, creating this culture will happen first, Wuerl correctly believes, in our parishes. We come to our parish home each Sunday to be restored in our faith.

And, sustained by the Eucharist and God’s words, we are then sent out into the world to live what we have heard in our encounters with our brothers and sisters.

We should also experience this when attempting to live what our Church teaches about racism. As Wuerl says, “the Sunday Eucharist offers a wealth of opportunities to reflect on this issue” for priests to urge parishioners to confront “racist behavior and prejudice.”

Parishes, he says, should also encourage dialogue on racism. Studying the pastoral would be a good way to begin that discussion.

These good suggestions will invigorate parishioners’ work to challenge racism, but more should be done. Acknowledging most parishes aren’t as diverse as they could be, pre-dominantly white parishes should enter into formal relationships with pre-dominantly African American, Latino, or Asian parishes.

These parishes could worship and socialize together and dialogue about finding ways to work together to address racism. Going through an Undoing Racism workshop together will challenge them to move further out of their comfort zones and enrich their relationships and their anti-racism work.

These partnerships will fortify Catholics for the work, which, as Wuerl correctly suggests, must be in done in the community to address racism in housing, the workforce, education, and the criminal justice system among other arenas.

When confronting racism, it’s especially important for Catholics to make the connection between poverty and racism. For instance, African Americans and Latinos are twice as likely to live in poverty as whites. As a consequence, persons of color are much more likely to suffer poor health, and experience shorter life spans.

A lethal combination, poverty and racism kill, which is precisely why the Church, which stands for life, should combat poverty and racism together. Our commitment to end poverty is unmatched, but in the past, our Church’s response to racism was often acquiescent, and inadequate.

Our religious orders owned slaves, our parishes and schools weren’t always fully integrated, and only this year did the USCCB establish its Ad Hoc Committee on Racism. While a welcome development, it should be a standing committee, and should have been established a long time ago.

“The Challenge of Racism Today” presents Washington Catholics an opportunity to demonstrate our Church can do better when fighting racism.

To capitalize on this moment, the Archdiocese should coordinate a campaign, which promulgates the pastoral fully to all parishioners, encouraging them to study and discuss it and reflect and act upon it.

This campaign could become a model, which inspires others to work for “a more perfect union.” This campaign won’t flourish, however, as Wuerl suggests, without God’s help.

And while prefect unity may elude us, we shouldn’t worry about that. As TS Eliot reminds us: “Ours in the trying. The rest is not our business.”




With His Autobiography, The Boss Goes Long and Deep

“Born To Run”

By Bruce Springsteen

Simon and Schuster

$14.53 Paperback

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Now out in paperback, Bruce Springsteens’s autobiography “Born To Run” won’t disappoint the legion of Springsteen acolytes. It’s a largely revealing, consistently diverting and satisfying read.

The story of Springsteen’s growing up in “the bosom of the Catholic Church,” in the Jersey shore town Freehold will intrigue Catholic readers.

Some of them will nod their heads in concord with Springsteen’s descriptions of nuns’ knuckle rapping, being smacked in the head, having his tie yanked and being shut into a dark closet. These experiences, he writes, “left a mean taste in my mouth and estranged me from my religion for good.”

But Catholics will also relate to Springsteen when he writes: “I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand,” he writes, “that once you’re Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. I know somewhere … deep inside … I’m still on the team.”

Springsteen’s heritage helps readers understand the man and musician he became. The name Springsteen is Dutch, but Springsteen’s father Douglas was Irish and mother Adele Italian.

And Springsteen has said his acoustic, more introspective music comes from his Irish side, and his rock music comes from his Italian side.

Veteran fans are well familiar with Springsteen’s concert introductions to songs such as “Independence Day” and “The River,” which recall difficult kitchen table conversations with his brooding father.

While not diminishing Douglas’ dark and troubled nature, Springsteen’s portrait of his dad in these pages is more well rounded and sympathetic than he previously revealed.

As a boy, Springsteen writes, of having to collect his father from local bars, which were “citadels of mystery, filled with mean magic, uncertainty, and the possibility of violence.” The Boss also recalls, when he was older, defending his mother from his drunken, enraged father.

Springsteen “let him have it between his square shoulders.” Beyond his dad’s rage, Springsteen acknowledges there was “a gentleness, timidity, shyness, and dreamy insecurity.”

One of three sisters, who “have screamed, laughed, cried, and danced their way through life’s best and worst,” his mom Adele set her son a better example.

“Joy in your work and a never-say-die thirst for life” are among the numerous things Adele taught Springsteen. “The love I missed from my father, she tried to double up on,” he writes, and purchasing his first electric guitar, she encouraged The Boss’ musical career.

The story of Springsteen’s formative ascent through several band incarnations to signing his first contract with legendary Columbia Records’ producer John Hammond in May 1972 will most interest readers. And it will surprise them to discover the songwriter closely identified with car songs once didn’t know how to drive.

One of “Born To Run’s” more memorable moments occurs when, in his pre- E St. Band days, the unlicensed Springsteen is enlisted to share the driving in a 72-hour drive to a California gig.

While driving his then manager Tinker’s big truck, he was “weaving all over the highway,” Springsteen writes. “We were lucky I didn’t kill us. But by the time we got to California, I knew how to drive, and Tinker had spent many a sleepless hour.”

15 years after that episode, by the time of 1984’s “Born in the USA” tour, Springsteen was a superstar beyond his fervent imagination. Although his life was, on the surface, glamorous, Springsteen, in “Born To Run” most revealingly discusses his mental health struggles.

In 1983, on another cross-country drive, Springsteen writes, “the ambivalence, trouble, and toxic confusion I’d had volcanically bubbling for thirty-two years would reach critical mass.”

Regular psychiatric consultations and prescription meds helped Springsteen manage his dark moods until after his 60th birthday when he says, “I slipped into a depression” that “would last for a year and a half.”

“During these periods, I can be cruel: I run, I dissemble, I disappear, I return, I rarely apologize.” Readers will welcome this candor from someone so prominent on issues, which unfortunately some still consider taboo.

Through the apogee of commercial and critical success and nadir of anxiety and depression, Springsteen remains grounded and relevant and inspirational as an artist because he understands and values music’s power to transform and bind and heal.

His experience playing with the Americana style backing group The Sessions Band testifies to Springsteen’s faith in music’s enduring power. He and the band were headliners at JazzFest, New Orleans’ legendary musical festival in 2006, the first year after Katrina devastated the city.

The band’s playing overcame a skeptical audience unaccustomed to hearing Springsteen play a new style. “There’s a coming together, and a lifting, a fortifying that occurs when people gather and move in time with one another. It’s a beautiful thing.”

“Born To Run” isn’t perfect. Springsteen frequently employs all caps prose, which mars an otherwise laudable work and will annoy and distress readers. Nonetheless, the engaging, thoughtful “Born To Run” proves The Boss of the short piece can also go long and deep.