A Black US bishop has called on Catholics to eradicate racism in their parish life and to “schedule diversity” into their relationships.

– “We need to courageously examine our consciences”

Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago Joseph N. Perry made the appeal in a November 17 reflection on the Angelus website, a news platform of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Perry is one of five currently active Black bishops in the US, along with the seven still living who are now in retirement.

From that perspective of being in a minority among the more than 400 bishops in the country in total, the Chicago auxiliary – who is also the diocesan postulator for the sainthood cause of Father Augustus Tolton, the first African American to be ordained priest in the US – offered Catholics some tips as to how to become more racially sensitive.

“The place to start… is in our own hearts and in our own little corners of the world. And the first concrete step we need to take is to courageously examine our consciences”, Perry wrote.

The bishop invited the faithful to examine their thoughts, words, actions and inactions for traces of disdain towards people of other ethnicities.

“Do I see people of color as a threat, or do I consider them beneath me or somehow making my life difficult? At the extremes: Do I get anxious or cross the street when I see a person of color walking toward me?”, Perry encouraged Catholics to ask themselves.

– A call to parish priests “to preach against racism and to take personal responsibility”

Perry recalled that Catholics are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ, and that as such, through following his example, “our gestures and words should always indicate that we believe the Christian message: that every man, woman, and child has inherent dignity”.

Though Jesus was resolute in his commitment to include in his circle the excluded and the marginalised of his day, his followers throughout the centuries “have not always lived up to the teachings and example of their Master”, the bishop acknowledged.

Nonetheless and despite our failings, Jesus continues to call to us even today to practise radical welcome, Perry insisted, and to “make concrete changes in our homes and parishes to think and act more inclusively, with the same love and sensitivity that Jesus demonstrated”.

As part of those “concrete changes” to make our homes and communities more welcoming, Perry first suggested giving a special, leading role to young people, who with their “keen observations about what is fair, right, and wrong” have been at the forefront of the ongoing struggle for racial equality in the US.

The bishop also proposed that Catholics build on initiatives already in place to “increase diversity” and practise “racial sensitivity”, above all in the hope that “the next generation of Catholics… [will] see things more clearly and do things better than we are doing now”.

“Everywhere in the Church, we need to continue to study and explore how racism looks and how it is experienced by people of color”, Perry explained, calling too on parish priests “to preach against racism and to take personal responsibility to eradicate subtle traces of racism in parish life”.

The bishop also proposed that Catholics in the pews read and reflect on the nearly dozen statements the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has produced on racism since 1958, including 2018’s “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism“.

“Broaden your awareness of how structural realities in our society affect minorities’ access to good schools, quality health care, fair paying jobs, and decent housing”, Perry encouraged laypeople, also inviting them “to ‘schedule’ diversity into their lives”.

“We need to be intentional about seeking ways to diversity in our relationships, with co-workers, neighbors, our circles of friends and acquaintances”, Perry explained, proposing yet more questions for conscience reflection: “Who are the people you hang around with? Who are your children’s friends? Are they mostly or entirely of one ethnicity?”

– An invitation to visit soup kitchens to see “how often race plays a part in people’s poverty”

Beyond reflections on thoughts, words and deeds, Perry invited Catholics to take a decisive practical step for racial sensitivity by visiting a parish where the congregation is primarily of another ethnicity, to “imbibe a sense of the worth, the offerings of a people, the culture and beauty of a people”.

Denouncing that “single-race or predominantly ethnic parishes are not the ideal”, Perry lamented that “often, unfortunately, our parishes mirror the racial segregation patterns of American neighborhoods”.

“We need to keep working on overcoming these racial divides”, the bishop appealed in that sense, suggesting, too, that apart from parish and diocesan community-building events Catholics also volunteer in local food pantry or meal programs, to see “how often race plays a part in people’s poverty”.

“We still have a long way to go in making [the] Pentecost template a reality in our Church and in our neighborhoods and society”, Perry closed his reflection, referring to the story in the New Testament book of Acts where people of every nation, race, and language all gathered to hear the Gospel in their own tongue.

On the fight against racism, “much has been accomplished. And much more needs to be done for the honor of God”, Perry concluded.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.