Mississippi bishops denounce racism in 4th of July letter

Mississippi bishops denounce racism in 4th of July letter

Mississippi state capitol, Jackson. Credit: Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock
Mississippi state capitol, Jackson. Credit: Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock

.- The bishops of Mississippi’s two Catholic dioceses called on their priests to preach about racism and highlighted the Church’s anti-racism teachings in a letter to the state’s Catholics on July 4. 

Bishop Louis Kihnemann of Biloxi and Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson issued an unequivocal call for all Catholics to reject racism in society in their joint Independence Day letter.

“We join our voices to vehemently denounce racism, a plague among us. It is an evil and a force of destruction that eats away at the soul of our nation. Ultimately, it is a moral problem that requires a moral remedy—a transformation of the human heart—and compels us to act,” said the letter. 

The bishops offered a list of “practical suggestions and goals” for the two dioceses in Mississippi on how to work to end racism. These include, on the parish level, a reading of the USCCB’s “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love -- A Pastoral Letter Against Racism”; homilies speaking against racism and promoting “personal responsibility to eradicate it and encourage dialog”; prayers to end racism and injustice at Mass; listening seminars for members of the parish and wider community; and invitations for chaplains and police departments “to join seminars and discussions on racism.”

Individually, the bishops suggested that Catholics read Open Wide Our Hearts and other texts concerning Catholic Social Teaching; to learn more about history and causes of racism; vote; to “not take part in racial or discriminatory humor”; work on strengthening family life; and to “speak out whenever you see injustice, racism or discrimination.” 

The bishops’ letter comes at a time when many monuments and artifacts of the Confederacy are being removed around the country, including Mississippi. Last month, lawmakers in Mississippi voted to change the state flag, which included an emblem of the Confederate battle flag. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed the bill altering the flag into law on June 30. 

The flag had flown in its previous form since 1894. 

The bishops said that an honest appraisal of history is necessary to “recognize our participation in the chains of racism,” and to acknowledge that “significant numbers of African Americans are born into economic and social disparity.” 

“Generations of African Americans were disadvantaged by slavery, wage theft, ‘Jim Crow’ laws, and the systematic denial of access to numerous wealth-building opportunities reserved for others,” they added. These effects, when added up, have led to “social structures of injustice and violence,” they said. 

Pointing to the recent widespread protests and rallies “against the tyranny of racism” in response to the “heartless killing of George Floyd,” the bishops stated that a “critical mass” has been reached that has “exploded across our nation and beyond.” 

In their Independence Day letter, the bishops acknowledged that “for many of our fellow citizens, interactions with the police are often fraught with fear and even danger,” but that they also “reject harsh rhetoric that belittles and dehumanizes our law enforcement personnel as a whole,” as well as violence and riots. 

At the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in November 2018, the bishops endorsed the Cause for Canonization of Sr. Thea Bowman, an African-American religious sister from Mississippi who often spoke out in favor of racial justice. In their July 4 letter, the bishops repeatedly cited Bowman’s work, and agreed with her declaration that low self-esteem due to repeated criticisms from “racist society” was “one of the great problems of the black community.” 

“The enduring call to love is the heart of the matter and the antidote to this toxin,” said the bishops.  

“Love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. For many in Mississippi who strive to live by the Word of God, we cannot ignore the prophets,” they added.

The bishops vowed to “recommit ourselves to continue to liberate the Church from the evil of racism,” which “severely compromises our mission to make disciples of all nations in the name of Jesus Christ.” 

“With the ordained priests and deacons, religious and laity in our diocese we pledge ourselves to strengthen our Catholic tradition to educate, to serve, and to empower all who are on the margins in our communities, especially those who are oppressed by the yoke of racism,” they said. 

“We are not powerless, and the witness of Sister Thea’s life is an icon of hope that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Tags: Racism, Mississippi, Diocese of Jackson, George Floyd, Diocese of Biloxi

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