At Home With the Word: A Suggestion for Bishops

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.

 
Precious Blood Spirituality at Home logo

Province Director’s Letter to the Province on Our Work To End Hate

KC Province LogoDear brothers and sisters in Christ,

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples who were locked away out of fear. These were people who had lost hope and were probably feeling powerless in the face of the systemic violence they had witnessed, perpetrated by their religious leaders and the Roman occupiers. But Jesus tells them “Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so I send you.” Amid the fear and hopelessness, Jesus tells them that they will be empowered by the Spirit to make peace a reality – that same peace which Jesus proclaimed through word and deed.

Once again, we have witnessed the brutal killing of a person of color at the hands of the police. I can’t help feeling a sense of hopelessness in the face of the violence and disregard for life which in our society extends beyond just this one senseless act. I want to say to whoever will listen “Not again!” Or “Haven’t we learned anything from past incidents like this!” Or “Is prejudice and violence just an inescapable part of our nature as human beings?” Like the disciples, I sometimes want to lock myself away and give up believing anything can be different. Maybe many of us feel this way.

If so, then this is exactly the time to allow the words of Jesus to break through the locked doors of our hopelessness and fear and speak to us of the possibility of New Life. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples that they could eradicate all violence, war, and killing. Even Jesus could not do that. He did tell them that they could be peace in the world through their words and actions. That, he said, was possible, and was in fact their mission. As Jesus sent the disciples out to do this work, so he sends us out.

We cannot give up on being peace in our world. This work is far too important. One thing that can give us the strength to keep going is a realistic sense of what we can do, of what is possible. I may not be able to heal race relations in the whole city, but I can treat each person I meet with respect and compassion. I may not be able to make a whole organization change and not be racially biased. But I may be able to publicly highlight institutional prejudice when it happens and express how it violates the gospel message. Focusing on what we can accomplish helps us continue the work.

Another thing that helps us not give up is to do the work together. There is strength in numbers. This strength is not only the power to get something accomplished, but to give us as individuals strength of heart, soul, mind, and Spirit so we don’t weaken and give up.

Ultimately what keeps us going is our faith. It is our faith in the words of Jesus when he says, “As God has sent me, so I send you.” We need to trust that Jesus has given us what we need to do the same work that Jesus did, and which he still does through the workings of the Spirit. With that faith, we realize that it is not just us fighting a hopeless battle against violence, hate, and prejudice. With that faith, we know that it is the Spirit of Jesus working through us to bring peace to whomever our words, actions, and lives touch. That is important work.

Peace in the blood of Christ,

Fr. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.

Peace & Justice Director Statement on Death of George Floyd

by Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director

KC Province LogoAs a nation, we are dealing with parallel plagues. We are still living with the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken the lives of over 100,000 people while George Floyd lost his life at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers while pleading with them that he could not breathe, the death of yet another person of color. George Floyd did not deserve to die because he was black. His death was senseless and brutal. We have a long history of racial injustice boiling over. We need to acknowledge the deeper and ongoing reality of racism toward people of color. We are all connected. What happens to one affects us all.

The protests that we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified anger and frustration of many. How much humiliation, inequality, and indignity can someone take merely because of their race or the color of their skin? As a nation, we support peaceful demonstrations calling attention to injustices. In this case, the injustice is the sin of racism. Though we understand that anger can escalate into violence, we cannot condone it. Violence that damages and destroys the property of innocent shopkeepers and business owners, causing death and injury to peaceful participants and to law enforcement persons is not acceptable.

In a talk given at Stanford University in 1967 titled “The Other America,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Are we still not hearing? Do we not listen?

This past weekend we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. Let us pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for a desire to rid ourselves of the harm caused by racism and prejudice. Let us pray that the Spirit of truth touch all of us. Let us pray that our broken criminal justice and law enforcement systems be changed. Let us continue to pray for racial justice.

Peace & Justice: Holy Week Resources

Window at Gianofrom Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director

Today our Jewish sisters and brothers begin the celebration of Passover as we prepare to celebrate Holy Thursday. Due to the exceptional challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, this Triduum will be like no other experience of Holy Week in our lifetime. As we shelter in place and practice physical distancing, we reconsider our spiritual practices and continue to find creative ways to reflect, pray and make these days holy as we continue to be church.

I am attaching some appropriate prayers for you that might help you celebrate these holiest days.

A Prayer in a Time of Pandemic

Living Water Ritual

Stations of the Cross: Overcoming Racism

 

On the 40th Anniversary of the Assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero

by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.

“I don’t believe in death without resurrection.”
– St. Oscar Romero

It is a strange new world. Almost every story on National Public Radio is about the pandemic and the medical, economic, and social problems it creates. As I reflect by the window in week two of the “shelter in place” order in the Bay Area that is now extended throughout the state and most of the nation, the trash truck collects the garbage at the apartment complex across the street. While many are out of work or working from home because of social distancing, trash and recycling companies are probably busier than usual because more people are staying at home. Obviously, doctors, nurses, medical personnel, and first responders are the busiest as they try to make less work for another group who are busier than usual, morticians and gravediggers.

So, on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, it is good to remember that we don’t believe in death without resurrection.

A virus of violence killed St. Oscar. Before this pandemic took hold of the world, we had an epidemic of gun violence in this country; a pandemic of oppression and injustice especially toward refugees and immigrants. Romero was killed because he became a voice against the virus of violence that claimed the lives of the poor in El Salvador.

He was denied canonization for years because there were those who felt his death was caused for political reasons rather than rooted in the gospel nonviolence of Jesus. The church finally recognized that when the rule of law in a country is unjust and the poor are being persecuted, the Sermon on the Mount and the witness of Jesus becomes political. Fidelity to gospel nonviolence leads to the cross stained with the precious blood of Christ.

Forty years ago, Archbishop Romero’s blood poured out upon the altar where he was celebrating Mass, martyred for living his faith and giving voice to the cries of the poor. “They can kill me,” he said, “but they cannot kill the voice of justice.”

Now the focus of the nation and the world is on the corona virus as it should be. But the virus of violence will continue unless those who are rooted in gospel values raise their voices against the culture of hate, indifference, and death.

As with other crises we have faced, we are at our best when the news of the world is the worst. The hashtag now is “alone together”—though we are sheltering in place and staying at home, there is a sense of solidarity that we are all in this together. May it also be so in attacking the virus of violence.

As we meet in prayer across the miles, St. Oscar Romero, pray for us.

 

Precious Blood Resource Services Collaborates with Hope Faith-Homeless Assistance Campus

PBRS client and Denise Murrow in front of yarnPBRS has recently joined in collaboration with Hope FaithHomeless Assistance Campus located in downtown Kansas City and will be assisting in case management. The concept of collaborating and connecting with other social service providers to provide the best services for those in need is the common denominator for PBRS and Hope Faith 

Hope Faith’s mission is to serve the homeless in Kansas City. According to Programs and Partnership Director Alfredo Palaco, the organization best fulfills its mission when it partners with other social service organizations in the metro area. Because every client that they serve has their own unique challenges and barriers, by working with area agencies and organizations Hope Faith can provide a wider variety of services such as medical, behavioral, employment, spiritual, and intensive case management. According to Palaco, “Working together as a community, we can leverage the strengths of partner organizations to provide integrated services to better serve those in need and to find more lasting solutions to a persons unique situation experiencing homelessness. Partnering with PBRS aligns perfectly in our work to provide more individualized care and support for each guest that comes to Hope Faith and to others experiencing homelessness in Kansas City. 

Case Management Supervisor Jonathan Reavis adds that Precious Blood Resource Services is a good partner for Hope Faith because both look to see God in all people. “I choose to see the people I help, not as a collection of problems, but as dynamic persons of strength and resilience. From a faith perspective, this is simply the acknowledgment that God’s grace is already at work with someone long before I encounter them. Reavis goes on to say that when this is the view of the client, social workers can see them “more like a collaborator, co-struggler, and co-sufferer. In short, it enables us to be compassionate. 

As a compassionate organization, Hope Faith offers services like private showers, hot meals, clothing, medical and dental clinics, mail services, and document assistance. Precious Blood Resource Services is a good fit for the sort of work that Hope Faith does because the most important element of case management is a caring and compassionate worker. Reavis concludes, “When we are able to sit with someone, validate their strengths and struggles, and approach each person not as a problem to be solved, but as a fellow struggler, we accomplish the goal that is at the heart of faith and our common humanity. 

I believe that this new collaboration allows PBRS to continue its mission to connect those on the margins of society, with the help they need to enhance their quality of life and lead them to independence. It provides further opportunity to assess for needs and gather resources from public and private agencies as well as walk with those needing assistance as they move through the system to get help.  

For example, through Hope Faith, I was able to meet with Alicia who has been coming to the campus for a few years and utilizes their sewing center. I was able to talk with her about her situation and provide her with information regarding employment. I assured her that if she needed any other resources, I was there to help her. 

I also sat with Richard who came to Kansas City a year ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota and is currently homeless by choice. He finds that the homeless population in Kansas City is “deep” and everyone is intertwined and connected and dependent on life services. It is his goal to make a documentary on the lives of the homeless in Kansas City. 

As the homeless problem begins to increase all over the country, we are called to walk with those on the margins through their struggles. We must remember Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.