by Fr. Joe Uecker, C.PP.S.
I read in AmericaMedia.org an article about the U.S. Bishops statement on George Floyd. The article is found at https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2020/05/30/bishops-sickened-floyds-death-say-racism-real-and-present-danger. I wrote a note to Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo, the diocese in which I serve, encouraging him to talk with his presbyteral council about the events of the past week. Even though we do not have many African American members in the Diocese of San Angelo, or maybe I should say “Because we do not have…” I think this situation requires attention. In the past, I have recommended a couple of books on racism because I think that there is latent, unconscious, unintentional racism beneath the surface which still raises its head at times.
I grew up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana beginning in 1941. At that time the African Americans “had their section” on the south side. I lived on the northwest side. I lived in that and with that until I became conscious of what was going on and that it wasn’t right – the 60s. I went to a Catholic school and high school seminary and I don’t recall ever talking about racism and justice. I don’t fault anyone except the whole system and that goes way back centuries. But the fact is that it has had its effect on me. And I suspect that the same is true for all of us to a greater or lesser degree. When I read the book Waking Up White by Debbie Irving, it was an eye-opener. I talked with my neighbor who is African American and asked her if that stuff was true. She just smiled and nodded her head as if to say: You mean you’re just finding this out? Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has some excellent books on the subject also.
But many ethnic groups experience racism. Having been in Hispanic parishes for so many years, I’ve heard stories about our diocese and what our people have experienced—in the Church and in society. I had a brief encounter yesterday with another resident of our complex, a man about my age. He started it off by saying he was glad he was old. His reasoning was that with the black people burning down the country, he would be gone soon and wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. When I responded with Martin Luther King Jr’s saying that “Violence is anger unheard,” he made a comment about how bad President Obama had been. I could sense that racism was alive and well. And I pray often that God would root out whatever remains of racism in me.
I told Bishop Sis that I think this issue should be addressed by the Presbyteral Council. If asked, would the international priests say they had ever experienced racism in the San Angelo Diocese? My guess is that an honest answer would be “Yes.” I think that if left under the rock, things will simmer and we will be less, much less than we could be. I know it’s one of those subjects that no one wants to touch with a 10-foot pole, but with the violence going on, I think it is a wake-up call.
In my homily preparation for Pentecost, I came across one person who compared this time of pandemic as being in a cocoon, a time of transformation, such that we have a golden opportunity to come out of this transformed, changed into more of what God knows we can become, individually and as a Church.
I don’t know how to go about such a dialog. But I think that any attempt, while possibly being met with skepticism by African Americans and Hispanics, and resentment by Anglos, would be a step in the right direction. Since this is such a touchy subject, it would probably mean less than honest answers at first. But then a baby doesn’t do it right the first time when taking steps, but eventually makes it. Just our willingness to ask some questions might bear great fruit.
Bishop Sis responded to my note by thanking me and sharing that he was going to an interracial prayer service that evening in San Angelo.