Raw emotions, continued dialog part of bridging racial divide

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Listening as women expressed pain, anger and frustration in "Mother 2 Mother: A Conversation with Black Mothers" required a follow-up at several parishes that participated in the conversation at Mary Mother of the Church Parish in south St. Louis County.

Mary Mother held a follow-up meeting May 15, two weeks after the presentation, an initiative of The Ethics Project to increase understanding, reduce police conflicts and heal the racial divide. At the presentation, raw emotions and responses were part of the program intended to start dialogue and promote empathy across lines of race and class. The presenters told the largely white audience about "the talk" — a conversation black parents often have with their children about how to interact with the police.

Parishioners meeting May 15 dissected the comments from their guests on May 1, pointing out what bothered them and what impressed them. Points the participants made in order to reach across races included:

• When people are hurting, they sometimes lash out, a way of expressing their pain. Continued dialogue is called for in these situations. Acknowledge their pain and that change is needed in systems and structures of power. We are responsible for the system and often must do something to change it.

• Saying "you" when referring to a class of people — making it personal — can be hurtful and make assumptions that aren't true.

• Avoid partisan political discussions.

• When listening to someone, avoid forming a response until the person is finished speaking, otherwise you don't truly hear what that person is trying to communicate.

• Acting to bridge the divide starts with small gestures, often one-on-one.

• Attend events/churches that are multi-racial or with a majority race different than your own in order to establish a relationship.

• Educate yourself about matters of race and class.

• Recognize that it's OK to be uncomfortable about the topic.

Parishioners at St. Catherine Laboure in Sappington who also attended the Mother 2 Mother event held their own follow-up conversation May 5. Pastor Father Jim Cormack, CM, said the group spent time unpacking what happened that evening, and many expressed frustration with how the conversation unfolded.

However, "everyone said they were committed to moving forward," Father Cormack said. "Of course, that commitment is to the Gospel, which calls us to bridge the racial divide."

Many people who attended Mother 2 Mother said they felt personally attacked by the comments of the presenters. One piece of advice the group learned is that it's OK to feel angry about a situation and recognize the unfairness of the situation, but it's important to move forward and not fester over it.

"People can say it's not fair, but if there weren't situations like that, there wouldn't have been a passion, death and resurrection" of Jesus, Father Cormack pointed out. With every unfair situation, Catholics trust that God has a plan.

After the events in Ferguson following a police-involved shooting death in August 2014 that seemed to split the community, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson wrote a letter to the Taizé brothers of France, who have a charism of ecumenism and reconciliation. In inviting the Taizé Community to plan an ecumenical Pilgrimage of Trust in St. Louis, Archbishop Carlson underlined his concern for the need to rebuild relations between factions in the area.

Archbishop Carlson had seen a need to bring together people of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds since arriving in St. Louis. The idea of the pilgrimage is to get people to talk with each other, express how they feel with each other honestly and gain an understanding of each other. By praying together, people gain respect for one another, see the love that Jesus places in each other's hearts and then live together as brothers and sisters, Archbishop Carlson said in an interview for the St. Louis on the Air program May 10 on St. Louis Public Radio KWMU.

The idea is to listen to what makes people uncomfortable and grow through that, he said, developing a bond that allows everyone to be closer together. 

Walk of Trust

WHAT: The first step of healing deep divisions and lack of dialogue will bring people together to promote unity, healing and prayer.

WHEN: Begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 28, with an address by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and by Rev. Starsky Wilson, co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, at 4 p.m. at Chaifetz Arena, 1 S. Compton Ave. in St. Louis, followed by prayer at 5 p.m.

WHERE: The walk has several starting points, with the primary site at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4431 Lindell Blvd., in the Central West End of St. Louis. Other departures are at 2:15 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church, 4501 Westminster Place in St. Louis; 2:30 p.m. at Galilee Baptist Church, 4300 Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis; 2:40 p.m. at the Daughters of Charity, 4330 Olive Street in St. Louis; 3:15 p.m. at Masjid Bilal (West Pine Mosque), 3843 W. Pine Mall Blvd.; and 3:30 pm at the Clock Tower on the St. Louis University campus.

MORE INFORMATION: No registration is necessary for the Walk of Trust, and there is no cost for the walk. Visit www.walkoftrust.com for details. Listen to St. Louis Public Radio's interview with Archbishop Carlson, Rev. Wilson and Brother Emile of the Taize Community at www.stlouisreview.com/bLL. 

Race relations

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered a statement on race relations at the bishops' meeting in St. Louis in 2015. Among his suggestions are to make a sincere effort to encounter more fully people of different racial backgrounds with whom we live, work and minister; and to pursue ways in which Catholic parishes and neighborhoods "can be truly welcoming of families of different racial and religious backgrounds."

For more resources from the USCCB on race relations, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bLz

• Remarks from Archbishop Wilton Gregory at the U.S. bishops' 2016 General Assembly, www.stlouisreview.com/bLM. 

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