Editorial | Open up to conversations about racism

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The deep divide. The Delmar divide. These are terms that are used in the discussion of race relations in St. Louis.

There's also a message of hope. That hope is rooted in actions such as in our parishes the weekend of Feb. 17 and 18 when clergy addressed racism. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson made the request of the priests and deacons, pointing out that all people should be treated with dignity and respect.

"With God as our Father we are all one family, and we need to call upon the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace, in prayer in order to give us the strength to sit down together as brothers and sisters and together come to the Lord," Archbishop Carlson wrote.

In response, clergy urged people to look past stereotypes and open their hearts to others.

On Feb. 20, Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service hosted a "Sacred Conversations on Race" program in recognition of Black History Month. Miriam Mahan, social justice policy advocate for the center, gave a "Message of Hope." Afterward, she said "there's always hope." But it's important that people get to know each other and "get to a point as neighbors where we can talk about issues that make us uncomfortable," Mahan said.

The conversations in St. Louis aren't in a vacuum. Elsewhere in our country, Catholic Church leaders are also engaging their communities. In Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori just released a pastoral reflection on "The Enduring Power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Principles of Nonviolence."

"We grieve over the many people who lost their lives to gun violence in the City of Baltimore in the year just ended," he wrote. "We are concerned about the urgent need to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the residents whom the police and city leaders are duty-bound to protect. Weighing heavily on our minds and hearts is the sin of racism that continues, sometimes overtly but often subtly, to insinuate itself in our relationships, institutions and communities of faith, including our own. Indeed, the sin of racism has tarnished the soul of our society for so long that racist attitudes can be deeply embedded in our subconscious, such that we may hardly know they are there. We must bring to light such attitudes and overcome them."

Archbishop Lori also cited conditions "which create despair and spawn violence in our neighborhoods," including a lack of education, unemployment, a dearth of decent and affordable housing; a proliferation of illegal weapons; drug abuse and gangs; the disintegration of the family; and homelessness.

These deep and systemic problems do violence to the dignity of real human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Even worse is the tendency on the parts of many who see continued decline as inevitable and who react to these harsh realities with indifference or jaded cynicism. In this stark environment, Dr. King's principles of nonviolence are more necessary than ever: they are prophetic words of hope that can light the path forward."

A new report from the NAACP funded by Wells Fargo shows similar disparities in St. Louis. We have a long way to go. But if we let ourselves be guided by Jesus' example of love and mercy and open up to the conversations, we're on the right track. 

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