Maggie Beirne reflects on the Synod Synthesis: ‘Blindness’ to issue of racism

Maggie Beirne

Source: Independent Catholic News

The national Synthesis developed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) is a marvel of lucidity, and one which tackled a series of difficult, and potentially controversial, issues in a thoughtful and sensitive manner. It constitutes an incredible contribution to the global debate about how the People of God should journey together to live out our Gospel values.

There is so much in it to be welcomed that it seems petty to focus on a serious weakness, rather than proceed to embed this model of a listening church into our faith lives in our homes, our parishes, our places of work etc. Still, this moment should not be let pass, without some recognition of the blindness that the Synthesis seems to show with regard to the issue of racism.

There is a paragraph devoted in the ‘marginalised groups’ section to “People of Colour” (paragraph 71), which might be considered an improvement on some of the diocesan reports which did not allude to this issue at all. However, the paragraph is, in my view, very wrong headed. The national Synthesis notes that there are few references in the diocesan reports to ‘people of colour’ being excluded (the word racism still does not appear anywhere), but this silence is ‘explained away’ on the grounds that our congregations are often so ethnically diverse. The impression is given either that racism is not a problem within our church, since people of colour themselves did not raise it in the diocesan reports; or, alternatively, racism cannot be a problem experienced in our church because we have such ethnically diverse congregations. Neither interpretation is credible.

The commitment to addressing the need for more diversity in leadership roles is important but insufficient.

Talking with others, they confirmed my view that the final Synthesis seems “totally blind to the issue of racism” and some felt “let down” by its silence on the topic. I accept that the diocesan submissions might not have addressed the issue of racism explicitly but surely our duty as a church is to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying in the silences too? Were ‘people of colour’ engaged in the process in proportionate numbers (I was a parish synodal rep and noted in our written report that no non-white people engaged in our process)? If they did engage, were they comfortable in raising sensitive issues such as their treatment within broader society, and maybe also the treatment received from fellow parishioners? Maybe it is worse still if people of colour engaged in their parish or synodal processes but did not raise any concerns about exclusion because they did not feel that their experiences of racism had anything much to do with their faith journeys? There is plenty of documentation to show that racism is a problem that needs to be addressed from a faith perspective – just read the ground-breaking Rooting Out Racism report carried out by White City parish in Westminster diocese; or the submission to the national synodal process by the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ).

The Bishops will present this national Synthesis to the global church and (rightly) alluding to the fact that “the racial and cultural diversity of Catholics is seen as one of the great gifts of the Church in England and Wales”. However, I think that they must also be willing to see that racism is experienced by many in our society, and even in our pews. We, the People of God, need support in celebrating our diversity but also in recognising that many of the people we are journeying with experience racism. Absent this support, many faithful Catholics will remain blind to racism and, even perhaps quite unthinkingly, engage in it.

LINKS

‘Rooting out Racism’ Report –
www.cbcew.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2021/01/Rooting-Out-Racism.pdf

Catholic Association for Racial Justice Synod Submission –https://mcusercontent.com/3d2b3ff9853eab9381ba677d5/files/e100ecc9-e9fb-cbd8-158a-71dda217ad55/CARJ_Synodality_Sessions_Report_Feb_2022.pdf

National Synthesis Document – Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales –
www.cbcew.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2022/06/synod-national-synthesis-england-wales.pdf

Maggie Beirne, coordinator of the West London J&P network, is writing in a personal capacity.

Racial Justice: Where are we now? Update and Discussion with Westminster Justice & Peace – 25 May 2022, 1:00pm – 3:00pm

Join Westminster Justice and Peace for a conversation about tackling racism and promoting racial justice, equality and diversity.

This event will take place in person at Vaughan House, 46 Francis St, London SW1P 1QN, and is open to anyone in the Diocese of Westminster who would like to take part.

Colette Joyce (Westminster Justice & Peace Co-ordinator), Elaine Arundell (Westminster Education Service Primary RE Adviser), Fr Richard Nesbitt (Parish Priest, White City) and Elizabeth Uwalaka (Parishioner, White City) will facilitate this conversation updating participants on initiatives that have taken place in the Diocese in the two years since the murder of George Floyd in the US brought racial justice issues to greater worldwide prominence.

Join us for discussion on the question: what more needs to be done?

Book with Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/330195522697

To find out more about the racial justice work being facilitated for schools by the Diocese of Westminster Education Service please visit their website here: Diocese of Westminster Education Service

Racial Justice, Equality and Diversity Mission Statement

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

The above verse, taken from the Gospel of John, is central to Westminster Diocese’s mission to promote racial justice, equality and diversity.  The command to love our neighbour extends to all human beings irrespective of race, ethnicity, culture, or background.  As an expression of that love, we envision a vibrant community with full equality, that embraces diversity and allows for equality of opportunity for all. We aim to challenge bias, discrimination or stereotyping that can lead to racial injustice or inequality and will work to embed anti-racist practice into all areas of our work. We aim to address the cumulative effects of past and present inequities to eliminate disparities and enable all our members to flourish. We believe that this can be achieved through the education of the whole person throughout the whole curriculum with Christ at the centre. 

As servants of Christ, we assert the primacy of love, the uniqueness of the person, the importance of solidarity, the pursuit of academic excellence and our commitment to equality, social justice and the common good as the visible fruits of the faith. The Gospel is at the heart of the work of the Diocese and we serve one another in the knowledge that we only have one teacher, Jesus who prayed that we “may be one” (John 17:11).    

Racial Justice, Equality and Diversity Mission Statement, Diocese of Westminster Education Service

Homily by Archbishop John Wilson for Racial Justice Sunday

Bishop John Wilson, delivering Racial Justice Sunday homily, 13th February 2022 – Photo: Marcin Mazur

The Archbishop of Southwark, Most Rev John Wilson gave the following homily in St George’s Cathedral, Southwark during the Racial Justice Sunday Mass on 13 February 2022.

Dear brothers and sisters, I don’t know who is more excited about today – me or Father Victor. I hope we’re all a little bit excited about this great celebration of the Holy Mass, but also with a focus today on our unity in Christ, our oneness in Christ.

It is an absolute joy to be able to welcome you to our cathedral today. our cathedral. It belongs to all of us.

We are people of different nationalities, people of different heritage together and only together we form parts of that wonderful mosaic that God has created, which we call humanity, which in the church we call the body of Christ.

We are one in Christ and one with each other.

You are my brother and my sister. We are brothers and sisters of each other.

And so on this Sunday when we focus especially on racial justice, we give thanks first to Almighty God for the rich and beautiful diversity of peoples and cultures which make up our world which make up our communities which make up this Archdiocese. I am proud to be the Bishop of a diocese that is so diverse and so rich.

Today, we affirm and celebrate the gift of every human life. Every human life, from its first moment in conception to its natural end at death. When the Lord Jesus commanded us to love one another he made no exceptions.

And neither can we. Neither should we.

When the Lord Jesus speaks about God’s kingdom in the Gospel we heard today, he announces a radical inversion of values.

Those who are poor, hungry, sorrowful, those oppressed. Those who so often in our world, have no value and no voice. These are the ones who are great in the kingdom of God.

What an important lesson this is for us to learn and to keep learning for how we live, the weakest, the poorest, those the world thinks as nothing. These are the ones who are great in the kingdom.

Our archdiocese is marvellously diverse. People in our parishes and schools represent a rich variety of culture of ethnic and racial backgrounds, from every country across the world.

There is a place for everyone in our church. And if you don’t like that, there’s the door.

You might think I’m joking. I’m not – there is a place for everyone in our church.

The diversity that we are is a gift.

The Catechism teaches us every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion must be eradicated as incompatible with God’s design, to put it straightforwardly racism is incompatible with our faith.

There is and they can not be any place for racism, no place. But our faith does more than this. Our faith calls it calls us to be prophetic in our world.

To speak out with the values of God’s Kingdom to challenge racism, to eliminate its causes to heal the wounds it brings. And we each of us my brothers and sisters have a place to play in this, by making sure we think of every other person as someone worthy of respect by holding the rights and the equality and the sanctity of every human life and it is with great joy that in our diocese, we established our commission for promoting racial and cultural inclusion with Father Victor as its Episcopal vicar and it’s already working. It’s already making a difference to our parishes and our schools to challenge racism in all its forms.

Dear friends, if we think that racism is a thing of the past, then suddenly we need to think again.

It’s a present reality in our communities.

I was shocked the year before last I met with a group of young women young students from a school in our diocese, and I was shocked to listen to their experience of racism.

Through comments through insults through slurs through discrimination, alive and present today.

Racism is not a thing of the past, and therefore we cannot be silent about it. We cannot be silent about its existence, and we cannot be silent about its causes.

We must unite in Christ with other people of goodwill. We must unite in Christ, to work for justice. To speak out for equality for every person no matter what the colour of their skin is, no matter what language they speak. No matter where they come from, no matter what they look like.

My friends, it is our mission to continue to make our parishes and schools places where the gifts and the skills and the experience and the heritage of all people of every background honoured and valued and cherished and celebrated.

We will work to make our parishes and communities places where everyone is welcome where everyone is affirmed where everyone is encouraged. Where everyone is respected for the person God has created them to be and the person God is calling them to be.

We have in our church some inspiring examples of people who have spoken out, spoken out against slavery and work to overcome the sufferings of those enslaved. I want to name just two today. There are many others we need to learn of them because they’re truly inspirational.

The first is perhaps more familiar to us.

Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese woman sold into slavery and eventually brought to Rome where she was cared for by a community of religious sisters.

And she developed her own Christian faith and joined a religious community. She was such an outstanding example of what it means to live the values of the kingdom that in the year 2000 She was made a saint – Saint Josephine Bakhita.

I think of someone perhaps very few of us maybe only one other in this church today will know the name of Sister Dorothy Stang.

An American Sister of Notre Dame, who was martyred 17 years ago yesterday, the 12th of February 2005.

Why was she martyred? Because she upheld the rights and the dignity of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

The voices of all those in our church who have defended and protected people of different racial and cultural backgrounds, those voices must be alive in us. They must be.

Dear friends,

Are we one in Christ? nGive me some nodding heads please.

Are we one in Christ? We are one in Christ who is risen. Christ who is risen, who has overcome death, who has conquered sin and therefore we are people of hope. Are we not – people of hope? And as people as hope, one in Christ, we are committed to working side by side to consign racism to history.

And so, we pledge today, to continue journeying together into the future.

One in Christ and one with each other.

Amen.

Watch the homily: www.facebook.com/ArchdioceseOfSouthwark/videos/1104318056808474

Watch the Mass on Southwark Cathedral Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=62sIuHPSbIU

Westminster Justice & Peace representatives attending the Racial Justice Sunday Mass at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark

Racial Justice Sunday Resources – 31st January 2021

Source: Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales

Sunday, 31 January 2021

This year’s Racial Justice Sunday is more important than ever.  The effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, and the powerful message on fraternity and equality by Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti speak of the need to actively oppose racism and pursue racial justice with renewed vigour.

Theme

The theme is A Time to Act. Racial issues and inequalities were identified nationally and internationally in 2020 generating awareness, emotion and outrage. In light of this Racial Justice Sunday 2021 is particularly significant. Action is needed to further the cause of racial justice but what can we do? Read a reflection on the theme. Parishes might consider using elements of this reflection for homilies and further discussion.

Resources

As well as a thought-provoking reflection on the theme, the Bishops Conference website has a message from Bishop Paul McAleenan, the Lead Bishop for Racial Justice, and, over the coming days, they will upload a series of videos. There is also a prayer to bring this important work to the Lord.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,
in your ministry
you were approached by people
of many different nations and cultures.
You listened to their cry for help,
treated them with love and compassion,
and brought them healing and wholeness.

In our own time may we provide
to all those who are suffer
the help that they need
and the care that they require.

May we respond to the invitation of the Holy Spirit
to dream of a world made new
where the poor are not forgotten
but are given the opportunity
to live and flourish
with good health and equal prospects.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.

Amen.

Bishop asks UK to take up Fratelli Tutti’s call opposing racism

Bishop Paul McAleenan

Article from Independent Catholic News

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.'”

LINK

Fratelli Tutti encyclical – summary and link to full text: www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40597

A Catholic Response to George Floyd and Black Lives Matter

Article by Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News

“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.

LINKS:

Leslye Colvin at: https://leslyeslabyrinth.blogspot.com/

Article by Baroness Scotland:  https://news.trust.org/item/20200608160407-7o4ug/

Being Black and Catholic + Videos – Produced by Westminster Diocese – www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40033

Black Lives Matter: Learning for Quakers: www.quaker.org.uk/events/blacklivesmatter

The history (and teaching) of racism was addressed in the recent Cumberland Lodge webinar series, with recordings on their website www.cumberlandlodge.ac.uk/project/dialogue-debate-black-lives-matter