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.”




Creative Maladjustment Will Help End Poverty


The site of a proposed shelter for homeless families. Why can’t we eliminate the need for these kinds of shelters?

In my Washington, DC neighborhood – the most affluent in the city – people are upset about a homeless shelter proposed to be built in the neighborhood.

Some of my neighbors’ NIMBY attitudes aren’t unexpected, but our neighborhood hasn’t been singled out. Part of a city wide plan, which attempts to re-structure the way the city houses persons who are homeless, the proposed shelter is one of five designated to support homeless families throughout the city.

Instead of housing 270 families in one central shelter, which, all agree, is dangerous and overcrowded, these new shelters would house 50 families in each shelter, offering them more privacy and dignity.

With fewer families to help, the new shelter system’s proponents believe case managers won’t lose track of families or neglect their needs, and receiving more individualized attention, families will more readily escape homelessness.

Because these shelters promise a better future to these families than our current broken system, in one way, I hope the city overcomes my neighbors’ objections and builds the shelter. But, in another sense, if for the wrong reasons, my neighbors are right: no one should want a homeless shelter built in their community.

Each new one our society builds signals a collective failure of will and imagination to think more ambitiously about eradicating homelessness.

We shouldn’t debate where to put shelters and how many persons to house. We should work instead to eliminate the need for shelters. Because, however, it feels as if there are homeless persons on each corner asking us for spare change we can’t conceive of ending homelessness.

We’ve become too well acquainted with the wide range of reactions we experience when we encounter homeless people. We think nothing of walking past someone sleeping on a subway grate. Or we avert our eyes or walk to the other side of the street. Their begging exasperates us or we’re ashamed of our failure to act.

Unable to sort through these conflicting emotions, and overwhelmed by a problem that feels too enormous, we feel powerless to act, and have become too accepting of the status quo.

We need a revival of what Dr. King called, “creative maladjustment,” which refuses to adjust to the scandalous outrage of more than 560,000 persons nationally living without homes. Our maladjustment, I hope, will disquiet us enough to engender the creative solutions necessary to end homelessness.

Bringing together people irrespective of their ideologies, we should create greater solidarity among poor and non-poor persons that encourages them to work to end homelessness. Fully aware it’ a symptom, we’ll understand poverty is the disease we must overcome.

To convince others to end poverty, we should help them understand current government programs and private charitable efforts haven’t lifted 43 million of our brothers and sisters out of poverty.

Programs such as SNAP and Medicaid generate $2 for each dollar spent, and create jobs, and it’s estimated SNAP kept 4.7 million Americans out of poverty in 2014, and Medicaid kept 2.7 million people out of poverty in 2010. These effective programs shouldn’t be cut.

However, the reality of 43 million persons reliant upon SNAP, and 69 million persons reliant upon Medicaid starkly remind us of the great need that stubbornly persists, despite our best efforts and intentions.

In similar ways, programs that help feed families, and help them meet their rent and keep their utilities connected are admirable, but only help so many. Requiring furthermore people go one place for food and another for clothing and three more to pay their bills diminishes their dignity.

And when you spend most of your time and energy scrambling to gather resources to survive, you can’t think about how to create a better future for your family.

Poor persons are best qualified to articulate they deserve much better. And their non-poor allies should empower them to advocate for solutions for their problems: greater societal investment in a stronger safety net, preparing and training people for jobs that pay living wages, affordable housing, food security, affordable and outstanding education, universal health coverage, and safe and peaceful neighborhoods.

Better advocacy by itself won’t overcome poverty, however. Poor persons won’t escape poverty until they can determine, as all people desire, their own futures. With others’ support and that of a better safety net, poor persons will need to avoid the destructive behavior that traps them in poverty and take advantage of the educational, training, and economic opportunities, which present themselves.

But those who don’t believe poor persons can rise or change haven’t paid attention. They’re among the more creative and resourceful people in our society. If we channeled the effort poor persons make gathering resources into creating good jobs or helping poor people own their own businesses, that could mean homelessness and poverty’s demise.