Race relations are a Church responsibility, bishops say in call to action

A prayer vigil in Dallas for the injured and killed policemen in a July 8 attack in Dallas Credit  Spencer Platt Getty Images CNA A prayer vigil in Dallas for the injured and killed policemen in a July 8 attack in Dallas. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

The Catholic Church can be a force for healing race relations, said the U.S. bishops' task force on racism and peace in a newly released report.

"We find ourselves at a critically important moment for our individual communities and our nation as a whole," Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said in the report's introduction. "The Church has a tremendous opportunity and, we believe, an equally tremendous responsibility to bring people together in prayer and dialogue, to begin anew the vital work of fostering healing and lasting peace."

Efforts to "root out racism" and "create healthy dynamics in our neighborhoods" are long-term projects, said the archbishop, who had served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004.

He wrote the introduction to the report of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, released Jan. 5.

The report follows several high-profile incidents in past months in which African-American men died during encounters with police officers. Several deadly ambushes of police officers also added to tensions.

"A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is more important than ever," the report said.

The task force had held listening sessions with bishops from communities that had suffered violence and unrest. It interviewed key individuals including law enforcement and a student who demonstrated in Ferguson, Missouri and Charleston, S.C. 

The task force said prayer is essential. It encouraged bishops to initiate opportunities to pray for peace in their communities throughout the year at Masses, rosaries, and interreligious work. It recommended dialogues with local community members, including religious leaders, law enforcement officers and youth, about issues that move towards concrete action. The task force also discussed funding opportunities for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Archbishop Gregory chaired the task force with several other bishops. He had summarized the report in a presentation at the U.S. bishops' fall general assembly.

"The Church is at her absolute best when she is a bold and prophetic voice for the power of the love upon which our faith is based, the love of Jesus Christ," the archbishop said.

The report included the Prayer for Peace in Our Communities, released in September 2016.

"Fill us with your mercy so that we, in turn, may be merciful to others," the prayer asks God. "Strip away pride, suspicion, and racism so that we may seek peace and justice in our communities."

"Surrounded by violence and cries for justice, we hear your voice telling us what is required: 'Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God'." 

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