It was a bright sunny summer day, July 1, 2000 to be exact when I left home that morning and journeyed to St. James Church on Wabash for a press conference with Cardinal George to announce the creation of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s new Office for Racial Justice.
After working for eighteen months on a task force that was commissioned by Bishop Raymond Goedert, in response to the brutal beating of a young black boy by three young Catholic men, Cardinal George accepted the recommendations of the Uniting for Racial Justice Task Force in the spring of 1999 leading to the creation of the office one year later.
The core mission of the Office is to address the sin of racism by providing the institutions of the archdiocese with the tools to initiate and enhance their efforts in eradicating racism by:
- encouraging Catholics to search their hearts on the question of how the sin of racism has touched them.
- acknowledging that racism is a sin that has created a racist society in which the dominant culture benefits.
- taking concrete, visible steps to dismantle personal and systemic racism in the parishes and institutions of the archdiocese.
Since 1997 the Office for Catholic Schools’ Principals Anti-racism Committee has led the way in working to eradicate racism in our educational institutions by advocating for anti-racism training to be a requirement for all principals and teachers, sponsoring education symposiums, and providing curriculum resources for classroom use.
In addition, all parish directors and coordinators of religious education are required to complete anti-racism training as a requirement for certification.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has collaborated with parishes to present Workshops on Racism and Ethnic Sensitivity. More than 300 parishes have participated in the Workshops to uproot racism and foster a spirit of collaboration and respect for the diversity that makes up the Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Many parish-sponsored initiatives in housing and criminal justice have resulted from parish participation in the Workshops.
A number of participants were so committed to working for racial justice that they joined forces and became trained workshop presenters.
One group known as W.R.E.S. (acronym for Workshops on Racism and Ethnic Sensitivity) consisting of parishioners from Holy Angels, Holy Family, St. Mary of the Woods, Queen of All Saints, and St. Raymond de Penafort have been together for more then eight years.
Catholics United for Racial Justice is another group of passionate Catholics committed to working for racial justice, who sponsor archdiocesan-wide educational and community-action events in support of racial justice.
Over the years more than 25 individuals and groups have received the highest recognition given by the Office, the St. Katharine Drexel Racial Justice Award, for their commitment to creating a racially just church and society.
On July 19 we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Office for Racial Justice with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by His Eminence Francis Cardinal George. Looking back in retrospect over these past ten years, we are most grateful for the prophetic vision of Cardinal George in writing his pastoral letter on racism, Dwell in My Love, which is the foundational document for the work of the Office, for the leadership and strong support of the Chancellor, Jimmy Lago, and for the steadfast commitment of the members of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Dwell in My Love Anti-racism Team, who have made this work an integral part of their Christian mission to proclaim a gospel of justice for all people.
It has been my joy and privilege to serve as the director of the Office for Racial Justice for ten years and I have been especially blessed to work with a dedicated and hard-working staff.
The establishment of the Office for Racial Justice is Cardinal George’s clear commitment on the part of the Archdiocese of Chicago to do all within its power to eradicate racism at every level where it may exist in our Church and communities. While we have come a mighty long way in this journey towards racial justice, there is still much work yet to be done.
To paraphrase Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, it is my hope that as we celebrate this tenth anniversary that right here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, White, Black, Latino, Asian and Native American Catholics will one day join hands and cross into the promise land of freedom and justice for all of God’s people.