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Christopher Cox manages The Human Thread campaign, which seeks to foster Catholics’ awareness that promotes solidarity between consumers of clothing and the people who produce them in order to create a more just economy and sustainable communities.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Seeking and Living Justice as Neighbors

Consider this question about the state of American Catholicism: What would you guess to be the most common last name of an American Catholic priest?

Most will answer "Murphy" or "O'Connor," Irish-American names, but the answer is incorrect. Next, a respondent may turn to a Latino surname like "Perez" or "Rodriguez,” as well, incorrect. According to the Official Catholic Directory, the most common last name of an American priest for at least the last dozen years has been "Nguyen." Let that sink in. Imagine what that says about who we are today as American Catholics.

While the U.S. Church, like society as a whole has grown increasingly diverse, what Martin Luther King, Jr. said days before his 1968 death while preaching at Washington's National Cathedral remains true: “We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

Almost fifty years later, this remains true for American Catholics. We often worship like among like. When an American Catholic attends Sunday liturgy, he or she will most likely see people in the pews who look like them: Blacks with Blacks, Latinos praying with Latinos, Filipinos with Filipinos, Vietnamese with Vietnamese, and Whites with Whites. Diversity at a Sunday liturgy is the exception rather than the rule. Partially the result of neighborhood, language and cultural preference, it is also the legacy of structural racism. Alongside holy examples in racial harmony, every diocese has historic episodes that it would rather forget. These episodes that make us uneasy about our past linger in structures and biases today.

While national news has devoted hours to "Black Lives Matter," lethal encounters with law enforcement, protests and race, American Catholics have very uneven experiences of their parish attending to these matters. Specifically, priests in more diverse parishes are more likely to talk about issues of race in the Sunday homily, and unsurprisingly, largely White parishes have heard little or nothing about race in Sunday preaching.

What can we do about it?

There are no quick fixes, of course, but the Gospel suggests a simple step of first seeing and then loving our neighbor. In the beloved parable from Luke 10, the scholar of the law, who asked “And who is my neighbor?” heard an uncomfortable story that posed an adversary as the hero and broadened the definition of neighbor. Similarly, any path forward amid our troubling issues today relies upon recognition of our neighbor and entering right relationship with that neighbor.

Often, we feel ill-equipped to fix things. Sometimes, we do not know where to begin. Other times, it seems too difficult even to begin. Sometimes, we may feel like the only one who cares about a particular concern. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates that these can be tempting excuses for failing to act on behalf of a wounded and bloodied neighbor and that; nonetheless, we each are called to do our part.

In that spirit, the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors will host the Social Action Summer Institute (SASI) from July 17 to 21 at St. Xavier University under the theme of "Who is My Neighbor? Discipleship in the Year of Mercy." Sessions will provide tools for parish social action ministers, lay leaders, clergy and seminarians to attend meaningfully to these issues as Catholics and people of good will.

So many thorny issues are made clearer simply by seeing the other as neighbor. Through immersion site visits, presentations and sessions with national and local leaders in Chicago’s efforts in racial, social, criminal and economic justice, SASI offers a transformational experience and creates a forum to explore social issues in the light of scripture, tradition and Catholic Social Teaching.

Visit to learn more and register!

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