By Bishop Alberto Rojas
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (Jn 17:21).
This is the beautiful petition Our Lord Jesus makes in John’s Gospel, that all people of the earth may experience the same unity and connection that exists between himself and God the Father. What a powerful prayer this is to show us how important it is to our Lord that we treat each other with dignity and respect despite any differences we may have, whether it is our country of origin, how much money we earn, age, gender or skin color.
Our Diocese is a place where these differences are plain to see. We celebrate the presence of the many cultures and races within our faith communities, for they show us the many and beautiful ways that God manifests Himself in our midst. Likewise, our state and our nation also reflect this colorful fabric of culture and race. Yet, even as we profess to celebrate this, a darkness clouds our hearts, building walls of division and animosity among God’s children. We must acknowledge today that racism is still a part of us – in our country, in our communities, even in our churches.
The events of recent days and years – from the tragic mass shooting in Buffalo, New York earlier this month to the arrival of asylum-seeking refugees from Central and South America and other parts of the world to the killing of George Floyd – have forced us to confront the reality that racism is still with us, creating a terrible toll of hatred and death, and that’s not who we are as children of God.
The sin of racism is not often confessed, and it is rarely discussed among the Catholic faithful. Does this mean we are somehow immune to it? Of course not. Those who have experienced racial discrimination carry a great deal of pain with them and some are not eager to talk about it. For those who come from cultural groups that historically perpetrated acts of racism, it is an uncomfortable topic to acknowledge, let alone discuss.
But these recent events have led the Church in the United States, in California and right here in our Diocese to begin a process of confronting racism, both in society and within Herself. It began with U.S. Bishops’ 2018 Pastoral Letter against racism “Open Wide Our Hearts.” In 2020 the Bishops of California formed a committee to examine the presence of racism in the Church. This included powerful listening sessions with African American clergy and bishops, who shared painful stories of experiencing racial discrimination during their ministry.
That same year Bishop Gerald Barnes established a Diocesan Anti-Racism Committee, which I as Ordinary Bishop have wholeheartedly chosen to continue. The current Synodal Consultation process has included members of the African American community, who were invited to share their experiences of racism in their life and ministry. And for the past decade we have raised the issue of racism within our diocesan Building Intercultural Competencies for Ministers (BICM) training that is required of all church employees here.
These discussions have not been easy. People of good will and good intention in our faith communities have reacted negatively to the raising up of racism as an enduring sin. We may say that our words or actions that are perceived by someone as racist were not intended as such by us and so therefore, they cannot be considered racism. This way of thinking discounts the perception and the experience of the one who feels victimized. We must be willing to stand in their shoes, to consider their experience and imagine how our behaviors might be received. It takes courage, it takes asking God to forgive us and to enlighten us, it takes asking our brother or sister to forgive us, it takes being willing to forgive our brother or sister, allowing Christ’s love to remain in our hearts.
This is a painful process but let us recognize God’s hand at work in it and open ourselves to the change that He seeks in us. For the Lord Jesus also promised us in Luke’s Gospel – “There is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Lk 8:17). Thank you for reading this reflection. Let us continue to pray for each other and to celebrate our shared place together as the Body of Christ.