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Open wide our hearts

Open wide our hearts

Teri Rizvi March 15, 2019

One by one, 23 people from diverse walks of life walked to the podium and quietly, sometimes through tears, told deeply personal stories of racism and privilege.

“I’m a cradle Catholic,” one woman said. “Why is the topic of racism so difficult for ministers to talk about? When there is no statement from the pulpit, I feel there is silent consent.”

Nearly 300 people from campus and the community participated in a “listening session” at the University of Dayton’s Curran Place on March 8 to hear the narratives of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The forum was sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism as a response to the 2018 pastoral letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.”

“The events around the country have revealed and sparked racial tension,” said the Rev. Shelton J. Fabre, a bishop from the Louisiana diocese of Houma-Thibodaux who chaired the ad hoc committee.

Pointing to police shootings and the violent gathering of white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, he noted, “A pastoral letter against racism, even in the most prophetic voice, will not turn back the face of time, will not stop the stray bullets.”

Fabre said he hoped the 32-page formal statement — along with listening sessions and workshops around the country — would allow Catholics to “grow in our understanding of the aching pain and the aching bewilderment of what to do.

“We pray,” he said, “that this will be the beginning or the continuation of the healing process.”

The pastoral letter condemns the re-emergence of racist symbols in public places; discrimination in hiring, housing, educational opportunities and incarceration; racial profiling; harassment of Muslims; xenophobic rhetoric; and “the sin of omission when individuals, communities and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered.”

During the forum, one man remembered his shock when he discovered a picture of a black man hanging from a noose in his office. Another, stopped by the police on suspicion he was an illegal immigrant, played a voice mail message from an anonymous man telling him to go back to his country. A high school student said she wants to become a mother one day but worries that she will “bury my child before he buries me.” Another woman remembers seeing a photo of herself posing in black face with her sister at the age of 5 and not feeling any remorse. “Now my eyes are open wide for what it is — unconscious bias.”

At the close of the two-and-a-half-hour listening session, moderator Deacon Royce Winters said the painful stories help facilitate healing and reconciliation.

“In listening to the other, we gain an appreciation for the other,” he said.