by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The Feb. 22 shooting in Olathe killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an engineer at Garmin, and wounding another Indian- born man was a true tragedy. Our hearts and prayers go out to both victims and their families.
The fact that the senseless killing was motivated apparently by racial bigotry has sadly turned this local tragedy into a national and international story. The perpetrator of this crime is reported to have bragged that he shot these two men, born in India, because he believed that they were Iranians.
It was inspiring that the third victim was a Caucasian male who was wounded while attempting to apprehend the perpetrator. It was encouraging to read reports that the vast majority of the bar’s patrons were sympathetic and supportive of the victims. It was impressive to see the large and diverse crowd primarily from the Olathe community who attended the memorial service for Srinivas Kuchibhotla. We hope this outpouring of sympathy and love brought some consolation to the victim’s heartbroken family.
Apparently, the civic leadership in Olathe has been both farsighted and proactive in making special efforts to engage in dialogue leaders from a growing Hispanic community. Olathe’s elected officials and the vast majority of citizens have embraced and welcomed diverse new arrivals to their city.
I was also heartened by the March 5 front page story in The Kansas City Star that acknowledged how out of character this tragic event was for the Olathe community. The Star article actually quoted a couple community leaders who credited, in part, the faith community for helping Olathe welcome people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
While none of our three Olathe Catholic parishes were mentioned in the article, I know they are contributing significantly to the positive spirit within the community. St. Paul has for many years served a large Hispanic community that is both respected and treasured as an important part of the parish family. Prince of Peace Parish serves a significant number of recent immigrants from Africa, as well as being the spiritual home for two different communities of religious Sisters from India.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks very clearly about the sinfulness of any form of racism and how such racial bigotry is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus. Paragraph 1934 states: “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.”
Paragraph 1935 builds on this point by quoting “Gaudium et Spes,” a document of the Second Vatican Council: “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: ‘Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.’”
Quoting Pope Pius XII, paragraph 1939 introduces the principle of solidarity as a derivative of our Catholic understanding of the dignity of every human being. The catechism states: “The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of ‘friendship’ or ‘social charity’ is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood. ‘An error, “today abundantly widespread, is disregard for the law of human solidarity and charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity.”
Recently, I asked one of several priests from India serving in the archdiocese how the tragedy in Olathe had impacted him and his family. Sadly, he told me that many of his relatives had contacted him concerned for his safety.
A form of racism is anti-Semitism. During recent weeks in other parts of the country, there has been vandalism in Jewish cemeteries. Fortunately, in the Kansas City metropolitan area, both Jewish and Christian leaders have worked diligently over many years to cultivate strong bonds between the two religious communities.
Recently, this was evidenced by the American Jewish Committee/Jewish Community Relations Board organizing a luncheon to honor Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, who, until very recently, has been the abbot of Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri. Abbot Gregory for many years had served as the interfaith and ecumenical relations officer for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Over time, he had developed deep friendships with many Jewish leaders in the Kansas City area. It was gratifying and inspiring to see Jewish leaders take the initiative to honor a respected member of the Catholic community who had become for them a cherished friend.
Interfaith and ecumenical efforts can sound a bit rarefied and challenging. Yet, the most important and effective work in this area does not happen in planning conferences and banquets but in one-on-one human relationships. We are all called to look for opportunities to cultivate relationships and friendships in the unique circumstances of our lives with people of other faiths, denominations, races, nationalities and ethnicities.
During this Lenten season, as we examine thoughtfully our consciences, let us ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us where there may be vestiges of racial bigotry in our hearts. We must seek to eradicate from our lives racism in its many disguises.
However, we should also ask ourselves: What have I done personally to help diminish racial, ethnic or religious bias? Is there a Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist individual in my community or workplace with whom I could begin to build a friendship? Similarly, is there an African-American, Hispanic, Burmese, Korean or Vietnamese with whom the Lord is calling me to cultivate a relationship?
Perhaps, the Lord is calling us to reach out to one of the international priests or religious Sisters serving in our archdiocese to communicate our gratitude for them leaving their family, friends, nation and culture to help serve the Catholic community in northeast Kansas.
We can all help to make racism extinct by changing one mind and one heart at a time, always realizing that the first heart we may have to change is our own.