The Catechism states in paragraph 1149, that “the liturgy of the Church presupposes, integrates and sanctifies elements from creation and human culture, conferring on them the dignity of signs of grace, of the new creation in Jesus Christ.”
For example, the bishop mentioned, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as “mestiza,” or “mixed” race; African art depicts Jesus as black, and Mary in African cultural garb; and there are numerous Asian representations of Mary as well.
While at some points in the Church’s history, some have mistakenly equated “the fullness of Catholicism with European culture,” Catholics should instead strive for “unity in that which is essential, and diversity in those things which are not,” Hying said.
“In this context, are white representations of Christ and His Mother inherently signs of white supremacy? I think not. Because the Son of God became incarnate in our human flesh, does not all of humanity – every race, tribe, and tongue – have the spiritual ability to depict Him through the particular lens of their own culture?” the bishop asked.
Depictions of Jesus are holy to Christians, he said— they are physical manifestations of God’s love, and remind us of the “nearness of the divine.”
“The secular iconoclasm of the current moment will not bring reconciliation, peace, and healing. Such violence will only perpetuate the prejudice and hatred it ostensibly seeks to end...Only the love of Christ can heal a wounded heart, not a vandalized piece of metal,” Hying concluded.
In Madison on Tuesday, rioters pulled down a statue of Hans Christian Heg— an abolitionist who famously fought against Confederates and slave-catchers— and threw it into Madison's Lake Monona. Though the Heg statue has since been recovered, it suffered serious damage and is missing its head and a leg.
A statue known as “Lady Forward”— a replica of a famous statue created by a woman, and depicting progress— also was torn down and was dragged at least a block through the center of Madison by rioters.
Across the country, protestors have in recent days toppled statutes of Confederate leaders and figures associated with slavery, but have also, in some places, pulled down statues of Catholic saints, abolitionists, and other figures.
The violence in Madison reached a fever pitch Tuesday night when protestors attacked and injured State Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) near the Wisconsin state capitol, ostensibly because Carpenter was filming the protests with his phone.
Speaking to CNA on Tuesday, Hying emphasized that many of the most successful protests of the Civil Rights era were predicated on Christian ideas of nonviolence, and a Scriptural understanding of the human person.
The principles of Catholic social teaching— the dignity of the human person; the value of solidarity, "we're all in this together;" a preferential option for the poor— need to be present in any Catholic's response to injustice, he said.
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"If it's not grounded in that, then it really ends up being about power— that I need to assert my power, in situations where I feel powerless," he explained.
"It becomes a struggle over power, rather than a transformational relationship into how God wants us to live as brothers and sisters."
Some Catholic figures on social media have called for bishops to attend the rallies in their cities and physically prevent rioters from tearing down statues.
Hying said anything a bishop does in public must be rooted in a "prayerful, spiritual response," and not in any political motivation.
Any political movement that does not recognize the dignity of every person is prone to "power politics" and violence, Hying said.
"I think our presence always needs to be related to a prayerful presence. If we're going to be somewhere publicly, I don't think it's in a rally context, I don't think it's in a political context...it has to be a context of prayer. Otherwise I think it can get co-opted by the politics of the moment."