Philadelphia archdiocese addresses race and Catholicism in Zoom event

Black hand white hand Credit Alexey Skachkov Shutterstock CNA Alexey Skachkov via Shutterstock.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia hosted a Zoom conference on “Race and Catholicism” for more than 200 Catholics last week.

Hosted by St. Agatha-St. James Parish and the Newman Center in University City, the February 3 discussion was led by Danielle Brown, associate director of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

During the hour-and-a-half long program, Brown discussed passages from the pastoral letter “Open Wide Your Hearts,” produced by the USCCB’s Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. The 230 participants then attended group breakout sessions on Zoom before a final question-and-answer session with Brown.

“My hope [is] that the audience is able to think about these issues with a specifically Catholic framework and that it sparks more prayer, conversion, and conversation,” Brown told CNA.

“If we believe that this is the Church that was founded by Jesus Christ, we must continue to work toward carrying out the fullness of Christ’s vision of a Church made up of all nations that is one as he prayed for in John chapter 17. “

She said the conference seeks to distinguish between the Church as founded by Christ and the racist behavior exhibited by some of its members. Through listening sessions, she said, the office has heard many stories about experiences of racism.

“The Church itself … is not racist, but its people can struggle and have struggled with this sin,” she said. “We have heard many stories of people’s experiences to this end, whether it be in not being accepted by parishioners because of their ethnic backgrounds, or of school children who have been treated poorly because of their ethnic backgrounds.”

During the conference, Brown answered numerous questions on how Catholics approach this issue, understand it, and then act upon it, including tips on how to get the conversation started. She also addressed questions on justice and forgiveness.

“It's really important that people have simple conversations. That's the first thing, reaching out to people in your immediate group, … at your parish, maybe [someone] you've never spoken to,” she said. “Number two, read the pastoral letter … spend some time going through the resources on the USCCB website on racism. There's a number of prayer services that people can pray through [and] read through … that I think would really move a community towards both prayer and conversation.”

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The event was supported by the archdiocese’s Office for Black Catholics and Office for the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees. It was also sponsored by the Collegium Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Patrick Travers, director of Newman Ministries, told CNA that the idea first began as a conversation with the students and parishioners at the Newman Center. Later, they decided to collaborate with the archdiocese’s multicultural offices and expand the discussion to include a wider audience.

He commended Brown’s involvement and said similar projects will take place in the future at the Newman Center.

“We have been facilitating several dialogues on this sensitive topic since the summer months, and are looking to build understanding, healing, unity and justice,” he said, adding that he agrees with Brown that “doing so from a Catholic perspective, we as a portion of the Church are called to contribute to the difficulties our society is facing.”

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