States profited by the labor of enslaved people in their households (seesidebar on page 126). Church theologians supplied scriptural justificationsfor slavery and promoted a “manifestdestiny” that included the subjugation of native cultures. Catholicparishes practiced segregation by racein the pews and Communion line.
Right the wrongs
What can we do to begin to rightso much that’s wrong? Of course,we can pray. But we must do morethan pray. We must learn and discuss. Keep in mind, even before theCivil War, some church leaders diddenounce and fight against racialinjustice. Figures like Father Damiende Veuster, Mother Katharine Drexel,and many missionaries labored toaffirm the dignity and uplift the prospects of native and black Americans.
People of color like Mohawk Saint
Kateri Tekakwitha, former enslaved
people Father Augustus Tolton and
laywoman Julia Greeley, Haitian-born
Mother Elizabeth Lange and layman
Pierre Toussaint, Creole foundress
Mother Henriette Delille, and Sister
Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A. each provided
a strong counter-witness from within
the church that God’s justice won’t
be denied, and can break through the
most resolutely barred systems.
We see this counter-witness incontemporary religious communitiesinvigorated by a greater racial-ethnicdiversity that is the growing realityamong their members.
Although there has always beenracial and ethnic diversity amongCatholics since the church’s inception, most generations of Americansgrew up in single-race enclaves.
But that is changing. Today’s youngCatholics often have close-knitcommunities and friendships thatare rainbows of inclusion. Statisticsverify that young people are significantly less racist than their parents,less willing to embrace categories of“us” and “them.” It’s progress.
Open Wide Our Hearts calls us toactively push for progress. It reliesheavily on the healing role of education toward the goal of defeating ourinherent blindness to racism’s reach.
The bishops recite the brutal history,but also go farther, exploring present-day consequences of centuries
FATHER RUBÉNQuinteros of theDiocese of Little Rock,Arkansas is amongCatholics and membersof other churches who“took a knee” at a June
2020 Little Rock rallycalling for reforms andracial healing.
APRILLE HANSON, ARKANSAS CATHOLIC, ARKANSAS-CATHOLIC. ORG
the color of our assumptions. Welearn to appreciate how reflexivelywe circle the wagons around ourstuff, our kind, our advantage.
The bishops urge us to listenacross color—a dialogue that takespatience and practice. People can bequick to be defensive, less willing toaccept a share of so heavy a responsibility. Many want to prove that,when it comes to the sin of racism,they’re the good guys. It’s painfulto embrace that racism can’t existwithout participation, consent, andsilence. Many are blind to a systembuilt and sustained for the advancement of a privileged group.
That’s why Open Wide Our Heartsincludes a lengthy confessional section on how the institutional churchat times championed racist systemsand attitudes. It was a 15th-centurypope, Nicholas V, who first permit-ted Spanish and Portuguese kingsto engage in the African slave trade.
The first U.S. Bishop John Carrollwas a slaveholder. Jesuits supportedtheir New World ministries by meansof plantations worked by enslavedpeople. Eight of the largest communities of religious women in the United