Commentary: Let us begin

Auxiliary Bishop Fernand "Ferd" Cheri III of New Orleans breaks into song during his 2015 episcopal ordination Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. (CNS/Frank J. Methe, Clarion Herald)

Auxiliary Bishop Fernand “Ferd” Cheri III of New Orleans breaks into song during his 2015 episcopal ordination Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. (CNS/Frank J. Methe, Clarion Herald)

(Editor’s Note: This guest commentary on the recent race-related violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, was written by Auxiliary Bishop Fernand J. Cheri III of New Orleans and provided to Catholic News Service.)

By Bishop Fernand J. Cheri III
Catholic News Service

For several years now, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has lifted this prayer at every eucharistic celebration:

“Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.”

Is it not amazing and appropriate that an archdiocese that knows full well the trauma of violence, murder and racism confesses our sinfulness in such an honest plea? The Archdiocese of New Orleans was born in the midst of these realities and yet for almost 300 years of its existence, it has stood tall by addressing these problems over and over again.

Sometimes it has been successful — despite those times when it has seemed to crumble in the midst of incredible turmoil, trials and tribulations. Nevertheless, the archdiocese keeps moving forward, striving to be a greater reflection of the risen Christ to all.

I am especially proud that I can say truthfully, “We may not be where we ought to be; we may not be where we are going to be, but thank God, we ain’t where we were.”

Through the years we have overcome Jim Crow laws in our churches; we have confronted segregation, moving to the integration of Catholic schools; we have succumbed to and still overcome the tyranny of “confederate mindsets”; and now, as we are perplexed by current events that have leaders of this country shamefaced and bewildered, the Archdiocese of New Orleans knows full well it cannot be silent. We must act.

Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these overwhelming obstacles, Mother Henriette DeLille stood tall and against every imaginable obstacle founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, who celebrate 175 years of nursing and educational ministry.

Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these devastating trials, St. Katharine Drexel stood tall and prophetically and stubbornly established Xavier University of Louisiana (the only black Catholic university in the United States), schools and parishes.

Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these overpowering racial complications, we still have 23 predominantly black Catholic parishes and another 10 that are over 33 percent black Catholic.

Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these crushing hurdles, there has been 51 years of black Catholic episcopal leadership, to whom I myself give proud testimony. There is a legacy to build upon and keep alive in the midst of struggle.

There are no words strong enough to express the horror of the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. There is no solace for the hatred that took the lives of nine black worshippers in the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have made it clear that their movement is “a call to end violence, and that call to end violence was true two years ago, was true 10 days ago and is true today.” Of course, all lives matter; but if we were truly to comprehend the number of black males who die each day due to violence in this country — and our nation’s muted response to this abomination — an objective observer might assume that black lives matter less than other lives.

Catholic social teaching calls us all to work for the common good, help build a just society, uphold the dignity of human life and lift up our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters.

Recently, I wrote this to the members of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association:

“Two things struck me as a charge for us today. When evil people plot, we must plan. It is imperative that those of us who work for the good continue to plan events — prayer services and alternative social justice actions. We must believe that our resolve to work for justice in our communities will bear much fruit for righteousness and truth.

“Second, Michelle Obama stated, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ As Jesus pointed out to his disciples that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law, we must look deeper into the laws and how they call us to fulfillment in Christ.

“We go high into how we must be in right relationship with our brothers and sisters. It is not enough to know the laws of the land, we must understand and push for how they call us into right relationship together. We go high when we pursue ways to build up the body of Christ, respecting the dignity and integrity of all people no matter their race, language or way of life. It is our charge to keep as true disciples of Jesus.”

Meanwhile, I will be encouraging black Catholics to address the phenomenon of internalized racism that plagues our efforts and our lives. I know that racism can seem to be overwhelming, but we must work step by step, and “wade in the water” wherever we find ourselves. I believe in the power of God that we have within each of us.

Therefore, we have to roll up our sleeves and be about the work before us. As St. Francis said to the brothers upon his death, “Let us begin brothers (and sisters), for up to now, we have done little or nothing.”

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