By Carolina Scipioni
“We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes,” wrote the U.S. Bishops in a statement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I believe they spoke not only of the way they felt but also how we as a Catholic Church feel witnessing the opening of an old wound that does not seem to heal in our society.
The Catholic Church believes that human life is sacred, and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of society. If we believe this, then what are we to do as Catholics when we are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged by the lack of respect for human dignity? We seek to understand, we pledge to stand up peacefully, we commit to praying, and we accompany those who are suffering from injustices in the world.
During this last week, I had the privilege to be behind the cameras during the live streaming and recording of three significant events in our Diocese, where we, as a Christian community, did just that.
On Friday, June 5, Bishop Cantú invited faith leaders from Santa Clara County to participate in an Interfaith Prayer Service for Justice and Peace in the garden of St. Joseph Cathedral. It was beautiful to see each of them pray in their own tradition and in different languages, to see all of them united in prayer for what is just and right. There is hope!
That same day at noon, Bishop Cantú led a Prayer Service for Racial Justice and Peace in the Catholic tradition at Our Lady of Peace. At the foot of an impressive Marian shrine, priests, sisters, and laypeople prayed and kneeled for nine minutes to remember and accompany George Floyd in his suffering. I have no words to describe how those nine minutes felt in my heart and how they brought me closer to understanding the injustice. There is hope!
Finally, on the evening of Tuesday, June 9, Bishop Oscar Cantú and Fr. James Okafor, joined by priests, deacons, sisters, and representatives from the Catholics of African Descent of the Diocese of San Jose, led everyone on a journey of the Stations of the Cross against Racism. We walked together and reflected together at every station. And, as painful as they were to hear, collectively, we also named the injustices one by one – we were united in Christ. There is hope!
On all three occasions, Bishop Cantú called each of us to open our hearts and seek a real understanding of this evil in the world. He said, “I ask the community to read the pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love. The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops published it two years ago to speak precisely of what we can do to combat the scourge of society.” He also invited the community to unite spiritually with him at noon every day during June to kneel for nine minutes in prayer. In all the complexity of this issue, he offered us a very simple and loving way to start to take action. I felt encouraged! Where there is “action,” there is hope!
And here I am, a week after that first Prayer Service, still broken-hearted, still sickened, and still outraged…and grateful that those feelings didn’t fade away. I won’t be complacent, as that doesn’t motivate anyone to take action to eradicate racism and injustice as we know it. But I’m also hopeful: I witnessed caring people take action, and I had the opportunity to join in that action. As the pastoral letter says, we are called to love each other, “we are indeed our brother’s keeper (see Gn 4:9).” There is hope!