Detroit archbishop: A missionary attitude can remedy the evils of racism

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Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit. Credit: David Kerr/CNA.

Amid recent ecclesial efforts to combat the problem of racism, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit released a pastoral note last week confronting the “sin of racism,” saying a mission-centric attitude is the best remedy for the harms caused by discrimination.

“Our nation’s history has many tremendous accomplishments of which we should be proud. But it also bears the stain of many years of institutional racism whereby Blacks – even after emancipation – were treated as second-class citizens or worse,” said Archbishop Vigneron in his June 18 pastoral note “Agents for the New Creation”.

“Acts of racism are sins,” he continued, noting the Archdiocese of Detroit would be confronting racism by “recommitting ourselves to becoming a community of believers – a band of joyful missionary disciples – who affirm each person’s human dignity.”

According to Vigneron, acts of racism produce three evil fruits. First, he said, racial prejudices cause tremendous harm to whom they are directed, causing a deprivation “of his inherent human dignity” which questions their “God-given value.”

Secondly, Vigneron said racism can poison other minds through its reach, causing societal damage as it is transmitted to others.

Finally, it also causes “self-inflicted harm,” since the attitude of racism disfigures an individual’s “understanding of right and wrong and obscures his ability to see truth through the light of the Gospel.”

Vigneron said the Detroit archdiocese would focus on its commitment to “being radically mission-oriented” in an effort to fight the sin of racism.

“This means that our primary purpose for existing is to preach the Gospel,” Vigneron said, adding, “our mission is to proclaim the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.”

“The Gospel illuminates not just our relationship with God but also our relationship with others. All have been created in the image and likeness of God. Each person bears within himself the very image of God,” he continued.  

This misson-centric attitude, Vigneron said, means that Christ is the center of every action and that every life is entrusted to the providence of the Holy Spirit. Being transformed by the Holy Spirit, he continued, begins with each individual’s journey of repentance.

Unity in Christ “does not dissolve our differences,” he said. “Rather, it is the variety of gifts which Christ gives to the faithful through his Holy Spirit which makes his Bride, the Church, more able to reflect God’s goodness.”

The archbishop noted that as the Church has spread, “different customs and traditions consonant with the revealed faith and appropriate to local communities were developed. We see this richness expressed in the various liturgical rites which are present in our Eastern Churches.”

“The gifts of the African American faithful are a tremendous blessing to the Archdiocese of Detroit. We would be a much poorer Church without the expressions of faith through prayer, music, and personal testimony proper to the Black communities,” Vigneron said.

“And these expressions are a leaven to the Catholic Church. They are charisms which God has given to the whole Church through our African American brothers and sisters,” he continued.

The Detroit archbishop also said the only antidote to the evils of racism is Christ, and asked for the particular intercession of Blessed Solanus Casey, who was a “shining example” of how to treat others with dignity and love.

“As we seek to build a more just society – one in which we can truly say that racism has been defeated – we must begin, as Christians, with our personal commitment to Jesus Christ,” Vigneron said.

“To conclude, I particularly commend to you the memory of Blessed Solanus Casey,” Vigneron continued, encouraging his archdiocese to let Fr. Solanus “be for us still a powerful intercessor to obtain the grace from on high that we need to be agents for healing wounds of racism in our community, and to be agents of the new creation in Christ.”

Vigneron’s comments come amid recent efforts within the Church in the US to oppose racism.

The archbishop is a member of the USCCB's ad hoc committee against racism, which was announced in August 2017 in the wake of rising racial tensions, for the purpose of promoting education, resources, communications strategies and care for victims of racism.

The committee's chair, Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, said earlier this month at the US bishops' spring general assembly that their work is on schedule, and a draft of a pastoral letter should be presented at the autumn general assembly held in November.

The US bishops also listened to a presentation about racism by Bryan Stevenson at their spring general assembly. Stevenson is a lawyer and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization which advocates for equal treatment in the criminal justice system.

A fellow US archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, has also written a pastoral letter on racism recently.

“The Challenge of Racism Today” was published by Cardinal Wuerl in 2017. In the pastoral letter, he wrote that “Intolerance and racism will not go away without a concerted awareness and effort on everyone’s part. Regularly we must renew the commitment to drive it out of our hearts, our lives and our community.”

Both Cardinal Wuerl's pastoral letter and Archbishop Vigneron's pastoral note were fruits of diocesan synods.

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