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Statement on Racism from the U.S. Secular Franciscan Order’s JPIC Commission

Statement on Racism from the U.S. Secular Franciscan Order’s JPIC Commission

How long, O LORD, must I cry for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” and you do not intervene?
Why do you let me see iniquity?
Why do you simply gaze at evil?

Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and discord.

(Habakkuk 1: 2-3)

Once again, the wound of racism in our society has been exposed because of what appears to be careless and irresponsible behavior by persons whom we should trust to keep peace and encourage non-violence: law enforcement officers and public officials.

The National Commission of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States, hereby declares that racism is morally wrong. It does not love or respect life. Neither Scripture, our Rule of Life nor our faith justifies it, for any reason, or under any circumstance.

Our Catholic social teaching calls us to respect and honor the dignity of every human life, from the womb to natural death. It makes no exclusions on the basis of color or ethnicity and calls out no other distinction to be excluded. We are called to honor and respect the lives of people we love and people whom we may find it hard to love; people who are like us and people who are different from us.

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others each have their tragic and brutal circumstances, but share a central question that cannot be ignored: If they had been white, and the circumstances were identical, would they be alive?

As Catholic Christians and Franciscans, we owe it to ourselves to do the following in response to racism:

  • To identify and eradicate the structures in our societal institutions that perpetuate racism, and replace them with structures that are fair and just, and that value the lives and gifts of every person.
  • To pray for an end to racism; indeed, to pray for interracial solidarity, for our laws and our faith practices to reflect our compassion and value for the dignity of every human life; and that we lovers and followers of Jesus and Francis of Assisi, be leaders in bringing about a rightly informed sense of racial equity and justice in our land and in our Church.
  • To identify and confront our own unconscious racial biases. After a shared history of hundreds of years in this country, we all have them. They make their way into our lives and culture, often unnoticed. But we can become more just and open by discovering these unconscious biases and replace them with love and engagement.And finally, we need to have safe and meaningful dialogue about those racial biases. We owe it to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters to develop a strong sense of community and fraternity through peaceful conversations. This is truly a conversion moment where dialogue and education are needed. Our Holy Rule calls us to be “bearers of peace” and we all must bear the burden of peace as we walk this journey towards holiness as brothers and sisters, with open hands and joyful hearts. Come, Holy Spirit! Lord, make it so!


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Systemic Racism Must End: Statement from the US-6 OFM Provinces

Systemic Racism Must End: Statement from the US-6 OFM Provinces

A message from the US-6 provincial ministers: 

At a time when the COVID-19 virus has disproportionately attacked people of color, we have witnessed the killing of George Floyd and the protests, sometimes violent, which have occurred in our cities in its aftermath. Our hearts go out to all affected. 

Even though, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, we decry violence and desire peace, we stand in solidarity with our outraged African American brothers and sisters who demand an end to the deadly violence of racism. We cannot be indifferent when their God-given dignity is violated. 

As people of faith, we not only condemn the systemic racism that has led to these events, but we also re-dedicate ourselves to ending racial injustice in our provinces, in our Church, and in our nation and creating that space where Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community will flourish. 

David Gaa, OFM, Provincial Minister of St. Barbara Province
James Gannon, OFM, Provincial Minister of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province
Kevin Mullen, OFM, Provincial Minister of Most Holy Name of Jesus Province
Thomas Nairn, OFM, Provincial Minister of Most Sacred Heart Province
Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, Provincial Minister of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province
Mark Soehner, OFM, Provincial Minister of St. John the Baptist Province

#FriarFriday – A Personal Story of Racism

#FriarFriday – A Personal Story of Racism

We moved a lot when I was a child. I was born in Boston, but we quickly moved to Marblehead, Mass. When I was three, we moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., and when I was six we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. Looking back on my life, I was incredibly fortunate to have been in an environment of a mixture of diverse peoples that is Hawaii at such a formative age.

I do remember moving to Virginia when I was nine-years-old and being confused by the antipathy shown to African-Americans there.

The Northern Virginia to which we moved in 1963 had raw, blatant, state-sponsored discrimination. It was still against the law for whites and blacks to marry one another! (The supreme court case which forever ended anti-miscegenation laws, Loving v. Virginia, wasn’t handed down until 1967.)

Childhood can be a confusing time. Those who attended grade school in the states will recall the confusing taunt of “You’ve got cooties.” We didn’t have any idea about what cooties were, but we knew that we didn’t want them.

In my grade school, I remember a similar taunt, “You’re a n*igger lover.” I can remember being as confused with this taunt as I was with the cooties one. As an adult, I now know that racism has to be learned. This taunt was simply how racism was being taught to and reinforced among the young, the next would-be generation of racists.

Racism is a sin, as the US bishops wrote in their pastoral letter, Brothers and Sisters to Us, in 1979:

Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.” Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.

Unfortunately, almost 40 years later, we haven’t moved very far. The march in Charlottesville, the flood of YouTube videos showing the oppression in which people of color suffer daily, the remarks by the president about “sh*thole countries,” the exclusion of people from Muslim countries (recalling the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act), the suffering inflicted upon those fleeing violence and seeking asylum are all reminders that America’s original sin, racism, is still alive and growing stronger.

I urge you to reflect on how the bishops ended of their pastoral letter:

There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing for bygone times of privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another age. For we are children of the age to come, when the first shall be last and the last shall be first, when blessed are they who serve Christ the Lord in all His brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor and suffer injustice.

And, finally, just because we need to laugh, a Friday piece of humor:

#FriarFriday – Facing Racism

#FriarFriday – Facing Racism

Well, somebody got the timing right: January 15 was designated by the OFM Franciscans of the English-speaking world as the annual Day of Prayer to End Racism. Landing on a Monday morning, I can only say, “Good timing!”

After the recent reporting of the president’s remarks about immigration, and the reaction from a variety of viewpoints, including political and religious leaders. The most honest of them branded our president as “racist” for remarks attributed to him and confirmed by those present.

It’s good to call out such remarks, no matter who voices them. But after the shock and repudiation of the president’s remarks wear off, there remains a deeper issue—systemic racism. And on the remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have an opportunity to address that issue.

Some 25 years ago when I was helping to produce a video on Thomas Jefferson, race and slavery, one Southern historian we interviewed called slavery “the original sin” of America. That remark has stayed with me.

The historian was, of course, using the metaphor of “original sin” not in a theological sense, but to underscore how our country was born with racism as part of its fabric. I don’t know why white leaders–politicians or bishops or news commentators—shy away from this fact. If you were born into our culture, you are prone to that original sin. I speak here as someone from white society, of course, which is the only way I can. A black preacher would address this issue from a different point of view, perhaps.

The “original sin” of slavery means that racism touches each of us—black and white—who have grown up in this culture. It is possible that, on a given day, I might act in a racist manner myself. I have done so. I was taught to be racist by my grandmother, who warned me not to drink from a Coke bottle because “black people drank from it before you.” What else is a little boy to think?

“You’ve got to be carefully taught,” went the song in the musical South Pacific. And the society—white society—I was born into taught me to be a racist. But that doesn’t make me unredeemable. That was part of the message of hope brought to us by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He learned it in the Gospels. He declared:

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

And with Dr. King, we can profess: Thanks to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I have a way out! Thanks to the Lord’s grace, working with many great teachers, black and white, who confronted me and mentored me over the years, I can choose not to act in a racist way.

That gives me hope for our present-day situation. What people were careful taught, can be “unlearned.”. That is the good news of our Scriptures. Hear again what St. Paul tells the Romans and us:

Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. …. For sin is not to have any power over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.

If I can share the life of Jesus, which draws me out of death, out of deadly choices, I can choose life. This is what we pray for today. This is what we must preach, and this is how we must act.

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