Why Race Issues are Life Issues

Today is the last day of February, a month that our country dedicates to remembering and celebrating Black History. Conversations about race can be uncomfortable, but it is important for us as a country and as Catholics in America to understand how race affects so many in our society, and how racism (both personal and institutional) erodes the sanctity of human life.

This week on Go Ask Your Father™Msgr. Stuart Swetland referred to a pastoral letter against racism from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) entitled Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love

“In this document our bishops remind us of that ongoing battle we as a country have in this area,” Msgr. Swetland said. “And, of course, this is one of those non-negotiables when it comes to Catholic Social Teaching. Just as abortion and euthanasia are non-negotiable when it comes to Catholic Social Teaching. … To not be involved in any kind of racism, but also to be working for true racial justice is a non-negotiable for Catholic Christians. It’s part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

To illustrate this, Msgr. Swetland pointed to a section in the pastoral letter where the bishops explain why racism is a life issue. On page 30 of the letter, in the section on “Our Commitment to Life,” the bishops write:

The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life. The Church in the United States has spoken out consistently and forcefully against abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty, and other forms of violence that threaten human life. It is not a secret that these attacks on human life have severely affected people of color, who are disproportionally affected by poverty, targeted for abortion, have less access to healthcare, have the greatest numbers on death row, and are most likely to feel pressure to end their lives when facing serious illness. As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue. Accordingly, we will not cease to speak forcefully against and work toward ending racism.

In his reflection on this pastoral letter, Msgr. Swetland pointed out ways in which Catholics, throughout our country’s history, have participated in racist policies and practices that negatively affect not only African Americans, but also those of Hispanic, Asian, and Native American heritage. He encouraged listeners to reflect on the way Catholics have been complicit in institutional racism, and what can be done to bring about greater racial justice in the Church and in our communities.

“We are still a incredibly segregated nation,” he said. “And it is particularly seen in our church communities, which are often segregated because of the pernicious housing laws that created these racial divides in our communities. And sadly the Church was complicit in many of these racist covenants and racist history. So we have a lot to make up for as a Church and as a community when it comes to our commitment in love, in justice, in charity, in reparation.”

Read Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love on the USCCB web site and listen to the full reflection from Msgr. Stuart Swetland below:

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