The lead Catholic Bishop for Migrants and Refugees has called on all people in the UK to take up Pope Francis’ call in Fratelli Tutti to oppose racism in all its manifestations.
Speaking on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference at the start of Hate Crime Awareness week, Bishop Paul McAleenan said: “In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis puts before us a radical vision of human togetherness, addressing fundamental issues such as migration, peace building and the economy. One of the challenges he mentions is the need to tackle racism, warning that: ‘a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep re-emerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.’
“Our own society is not immune from this pattern of behaviour. In recent years we have witnessed a disturbing resurgence of hate speech and hate crimes. These take many different forms including Islamophobia, Antisemitism, hatred towards migrants and refugees, and hostility against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
“During this Hate Crime Awareness Week we should recommit ourselves to actively opposing racism in all its manifestations. In the words of Pope Francis: ‘Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.'”
“When you say, ‘I’m not racist’, you deny structural injustice” an African-American woman from the United States told a Westminster Justice and Peace zoom meeting on Friday. More than 65 people joined the meeting, ‘A Catholic Response to George Floyd and Black Lives Matter,’ where Leslye Colvin, speaking live from Alabama, deplored “racially segregated Christianity”. She highlighted the conflict between lived experience in her country and American ideals, saying that Catholic Social Teaching calls for Catholics to demand justice for all our neighbours. She felt “patriotism and faith” is fuelling nationalism in the US, but we must be, “ruled by a love and build the beloved community”.
Leslye lamented the recent killings of George Floyd and three other black people. “They were murdered because of systemic racism” she said; “it could have been me; maybe it will be me the next time.” Seeing colour is not the problem, she felt, but judging people because of colour. Referring to the particular discrimination experienced by the black community, she suggested that, “when you say ‘all lives matter’, you deny our lived experience”. She invited participants in the meeting to become allies and, “take one step at a time, for this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, for the roots of racism are deep within our societies”. Leslye said she appreciated, “knowing I have brothers and sisters in the UK”.
The second speaker was Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, QC and Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations. She is a dual citizen of the UK and the Caribbean island of Dominica, where she was born, and was the first black woman to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel. She spoke about ‘Black Lives Matter’ from the UK perspective, saying, “US experience is mirrored here – it’s a common global experience”. She agreed that racism is systemic and endemic. Describing herself as a Catholic “of the Windrush generation,” she remembered as a child seeing TV images of black children being hated and shot at in South Africa and asking ‘Why?'” She saw similar images in the south of the United States. “Being black meant I would be spat at, beaten up on way home,” she reported, and “growing up, there was a feeling that black people could not achieve”. However, she was also taught that, “each of us had a gift from God and we have to use it.”
She felt the Commonwealth has been radical, wanting mixed sport, for example. It has not accepted discrimination, and in 1953, Queen Elizabeth ll described the Commonwealth as a new concept of the best of humankind. The story was highlighted of the queen breaking barriers by dancing with President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in 1961, demonstrating her acceptance of a new footing between their countries.
Baroness Scotland felt, “our humanity is on trial, and the George Floyd case highlighted this”. She suggested we must reflect on what Christianity means for us? “Christianity is not something we do but something we are?” and she reflected, “there are no races in God’s eyes – just one race, the human race”. She called for the election of leaders better able to address the issue and for prayer and action for racial equality.
The meeting on 24 July was the most ethnically diverse I have been on and with a strong international dimension, with participants from several parts of the United States and the Zimbabwean Chaplain in London. Catholic groups represented included Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ), Newman House Chaplaincy, Caritas Westminster, Catholic Children’s Society, Pax Christi and Columban JPIC. A range of Westminster parishes included Holloway, Royston, Pinner, Finsbury Park, West Green, Twickenham, Eastcote, Euston, and Wealdstone. There was participation from Southwark, Hexham & Newcastle and Clifton dioceses as well, showing the considerable interest in the subject.
Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, Parish Priest, Farm Street Church of the Immaculate Conception and chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, said “this was an inspiring and challenging evening”. He feels “racial justice is central to Catholic Social Teaching and so to all our lives as Church”.
The Chair, Suddie Komba-Kono, said she was disappointed with Church silence in the UK over ‘Black Live Matter’. Many seemed to agree, saying in the chat that the Church, particularly priests, have a responsibility to highlight racism as a sin as is done for other social justice issues. “Even black parish priests don’t preach about racism during times when racial injustice takes place, which is very disappointing” was one comment, and “the Church needs to pay attention to ensuring that the clergy and those in leadership positions access ‘Cultural Competence’ training as part of their preparation for leadership and service to the faithful.” Lorna Panambalum, a black teacher, commented that education is key and, “we need to look at the structure of our education system”. She asked, “how are we making sure we know the history of racism in our society and Church?”
Participants agreed we have a special opportunity at this time for learning about structural racism. The Quaker ‘Black Lives Matter’ five-week seminar course was recommended, which has an extensive reading and resource list. It was felt that the Quakers have always been activists on the race issue, being against the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and supporting abolitionist efforts and now their ‘Black Lives Matter’ initiative.