Our nation is gripped once again by the pain and tragedy of racism, as the video of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, slowly causing his death, has shocked us in so many ways. This video is horrendous to view as it shows several police deaf to his pleas of, “I can’t breathe.” Nearly nine long, torturous minutes of the violent taking of another human being’s life by someone who is supposed to protect life is horrible beyond words.
This blatantly racist killing once again places a spotlight on our nation’s centuries old, deeply embedded racism. Four centuries of this racism, that gave power to capture and enslave Africans , has insidiously crept into every cultural institution: family, education, political, courts, police, religion, entertainment... In order to be rooted out and destroyed, racism must be acknowledged, owned, by us who have been “privileged” to enjoy freely moving ahead and having all the means for a successful life available at our disposal.
Most of us who are White, grew up in established families with “roots” and culture. We were allowed to be formed and transformed by the advantages given to us because of our position of power and dominance. We can easily trace our ancestry and connect with our unique, personal history, giving us identity, foundation and security.
Racism is a violence that rips apart families and cultural traditions. And the violence that fills the streets in the many cities throughout our country is part of the powder keg of repression and injustice. Changing laws will never be enough, for racist attitudes must be rooted out at every moment they are expressed. The vast majority of police officers are phenomenal human beings who serve us with dignity and honor. But as soon as an officer exhibits any abuse of power and racist attitudes, that officer needs to be removed. The Catholic Church is finally facing centuries of abuse of children by clergy by acknowledging and removing those who abused their trust and authority. It is no different in any walk of life. We cannot keep sweeping things under the carpet to protect image and position.
In our own Church we must face openly, not only sexual abuse, but racism, which has clearly made its way into our structures. We can’t be prophetic if we don’t face our inner, ugly wounds that divide and blind us to painful realities of exclusion. Those of us who have roots in Europe have to allow the Spirit to have its way in our church, transforming institutional structures of leadership and ministry to reflect Hispanic, Black and Asian expressions within the human family.
Pentecost is the Feast that celebrates our unity in diversity, the multiple cultures, races and languages that comprise our world. Celebration must be accompanied by and grounded in action, changing how we choose leaders, how we form seminarians, who becomes bishop, how the liturgy is expressed. The Church is NOT European but catholic, a word meaning universal.
May the Spirit burn away all that divides us; may the Spirit help us to surface and destroy racism; may the Spirit fill our church and its divinely mandated structures to embrace the gifts of the laity, who make up 99% of the Church; May the Spirit breath through our hierarchy, so that it no longer be solely comprised of men, primarily elderly, but of women, men, lay, ordained, religious, and reflect the beauty and power of the cultures and races of humanity.