by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
With our entire nation, I was deeply saddened by the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He died as a result of injuries inflicted by a police officer while other police passively watched.
Sadly, this despicable abuse of power came shortly after videotape evidence revealed that Ahmaud Arbery, another African-American, was killed in Georgia by a father and son vigilante team who claimed to be making a citizen’s arrest.
Racism is not a thing of the past. It is a real and present danger that must be addressed. As members of the church, we cannot remain indifferent and silent in the face of such injustice.
If we do, we risk “the land of the free and the home of the brave” becoming unrecognizable when some Americans are being deprived of their human dignity and their right to due process.
Our commitment to respect for human life and to uphold the dignity of the human person does not allow us to turn a blind eye to these atrocities.
I share the outrage against this grave injustice and support the necessity of passionate, peaceful protests.
At the same time, I deplore those who exploit this tragedy by violent riots, looting of neighborhood businesses and destruction of property. These senseless and self-serving actions result in creating new victims of injustice.
Sadly, they tarnish legitimate protests and serve to distract attention from addressing the underlying problem of racial injustice.
Racism is a grave moral evil. It is an injustice to those who are its victims and it is an insult to God. When any member of the human family is disrespected, much less has their fundamental right to life threatened, we insult the God who created them in his divine image and for whom Jesus gave his life on Calvary.
As Catholics, we are called to honor God by striving to purge our own hearts from all racial bigotry and actively working to eradicate all forms of racism from our society.
We honor God when we uphold the dignity of each and every human being. We also need to pray for our police, the vast majority of whom serve our community with integrity and dedication. Their work has been made much more difficult because of the reprehensible actions of a few.
In the priestly prayer of Jesus for his disciples in the Chapter 17 of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus prays “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us, that the world may believe you sent me” (v. 21). Jesus prays for unity among his disciples so that the world will come to believe in the Gospel.
It is the ability of Jesus to unite people of different races, ethnicities, ages, sexes, and socioeconomic groups that compels the world to take notice of the Gospel. We see this gift of unity in the Pentecost event.
At the time of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, because of the Jewish holiday, there were people from all over the world in Jerusalem. When the apostles began to preach, everyone heard and understood them in their native language.
I have often coveted this gift of being able to speak in one’s own language and yet be understood by others in their native tongues. If many received this charism, it could put Rosetta Stone and other foreign language learning programs out of business.
Pentecost is the reversal of the disunity caused by sin that is epitomized by the story in the Book of Genesis that described the building of the tower of Babel.
The tower was a symbol of human pride and arrogance. Its construction was an effort to pierce heaven with human ingenuity and industry.
This sin of pride resulted in the division symbolized by the discord created by the multiplication of many languages resulting in chaos and confusion.
Jesus came to reverse this disunity. The unity of the church is essential in her mission to make disciples.
At the heart of the Gospel is this respect for the dignity of every human person because we are fashioned in the divine image. In the Gospel, Jesus sheds his blood on Calvary for every human being, revealing the worth God has placed on each human life.
Our disregard or disrespect for any human being is an affront to God who has given each of us an inestimable worth. Jesus proclaims the dignity of every human person no matter their race, ethnicity, economic worth, physical or mental capacity, sex, level of education or social status.
Positively, it is the ability of Jesus to unite a diverse community of believers that compels the world to take notice of the Gospel.
As Catholics, it is not sufficient for us to refrain from racial bigotry and discrimination; we are called to engage in efforts to eliminate racial injustice within our society and to promote policies that respect the dignity of each and every member of our community.
We must labor to make Our Lord’s prayer for the church a reality — namely, that we may be one as the Father and Son are one so that the world will believe in Jesus and his Gospel.