By Father Robert J. Gregorio on behalf of the Racial Justice Commission, Diocese of Camden
“Love one another as I have loved you” is the capstone of Christian living and has been since the Lord Jesus left it as His parting gift, showing how far His love for us goes — to Golgotha.
The Racial Justice Commission of the Diocese of Camden calls on Catholics and all people to confront the malignancy of racism in root and branch, inside church boundaries and outside alike. Pope Francis strongly condemns the divisive habit of majority, or privileged populations, presuming a superiority over others of God’s children, all of whom deserve acceptance as made in God’s image and likeness. The common origin of the family of humanity does not allow such pretensions.
Racial bias can be expressed in public policy (such as housing), educational opportunity, or personal interaction.
Those who stand to gain by the oppression of racial minorities actively use governmental and other means to perpetuate their own privilege. The fact is that governments legislate behavior that legitimates such oppression, which keeps the privileged from seeing the injustice of racism. Do we not instinctively trust legislatures and executives to pass fair laws for the good of all? Love as the moral guide for all suffers when such discrimination is allowed to seep into the systems of law and life. The Racial Justice Commission objects to such legalized, but unjust, discrimination.
For instance, fair housing is a right of everyone, whatever their color or creed, as expressed in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. Yet, within the United States, and in our own state of New Jersey, the continued racial discrimination in housing is an egregious violation of the rights of minorities, making it arguably the most widespread racial injustice in our land. Real estate redlining, double-standard mortgage rules and other forms of discrimination violate the rights of people deemed to be of the wrong color, different from that of the brokers, bankers and realtors.
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s “Mount Laurel Decisions” are nationally known for promoting fair housing and the N.J. Council on Affordable Housing was created to enforce fair housing rules, but New Jersey is still the most racially segregated state in the nation when it comes to housing. There is so much work to be done in respecting the right to housing.
History shows many valiant efforts of ordinary Catholics and others working against policies of racial discrimination. The Ursuline Sisters of New Orleans courageously worked against policies of racial discrimination to create schools for African Americans in the 1700s, even though this was illegal — another example of unjust laws passed by duly elected legislatures.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has become an example of courage and tenacity, for people of all races, writing from imprisonment in Birmingham that fellow clergy should do as he had done and break unfair laws, even if it meant going to jail.
In addition to the housing and educational policies, racism can be expressed in personal encounters. When the Catholic Church first introduced the “exchange of peace” in the liturgy, many African American Catholics experienced the rejection of their offer of a handshake by their fellow white Catholics. Such rejection was as backward as the old “whites only” signs on water fountains in the old South. Can anyone put himself or herself in the place of the person receiving this kind of rejection? The pain stings. Yet it was, and continues to be, a too frequent experience for African Americans in our country, our state and our church.
One hopeful sign occurs in the Summer Olympic games, which only come every four years, but the entrance rites — and that is what they are — are displays of youthful humanity parading into the amphitheater under national flags but all together in the same opening ceremony. The racial mixture of the faces of the American team in the opening ceremony, like the racial mixture of the Catholics who attend any papal ceremony in Rome, are examples of the kind of racial harmony that can exist when people decide to live up to the saying E Pluribus Unum.