Archbishop shares message of pastoral letter 

More than 100 people attended a presentation by Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre on “Open Wide Our Hearts,” a pastoral letter on the sin of racism, March 1 at St. Bernadette Church in Prospect, Ky. The presentation followed a daylong Racism Symposium hosted by the Office of Multicultural Ministry. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

PROSPECT, Ky. — To eradicate the sin of racism, society needs not only just laws but a conversion of heart, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre said during a presentation March 1. 

He spoke to about 100 people at St. Bernadette Church about “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published in 2018. Archbishop Fabre served as the chair of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism at the time and helped develop the letter.

“We are the voice and hands of Jesus Christ in our world today, and in love, we must call, invite and challenge others to follow after him in this important effort to eradicate racism from our home, our church, our nation and our world,” the archbishop told those gathered at St. Bernadette. 

His presentation, which followed the archdiocese’s daylong Racism Symposium earlier in the day, highlighted the U.S. bishops’ history of publishing pastoral letters on the sin of racism and some of the ways the latest pastoral letter has challenged racism head-on. “Open Wide Our Hearts” is the USCCB’s fourth pastoral letter on racism. The first was published in 1958.

“I am not an anthropologist, I am not a sociologist, I am not a psychologist,” he said as bright snaps of lightning punctuated his presentation. “What I am is an African American Catholic bishop who desires to … bring what we can bring to dismantling racism. I’m looking at racism from a pastoral perspective, which is what this letter is.”

Archbishops Shelton J. Fabre, who helped develop the USCCB’s latest pastoral letter on the sin of racism, discussed the letter’s history and intention at St. Bernadette Church on March 1. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

In 2014, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., the African American Affairs Subcommittee of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church lifted up to the full body of U.S. Bishops that there was a need for another pastoral letter on racism because the “fires of racial unrest seemed to be growing.”

Four years later, “Open Wide Our Hearts” was published.

The archbishop said that while we have work to do, great strides have been made thanks to the passage of anti-racism legislation.

However, “laws are not enough to change the human heart,” he said. “To really eradicate racism, we have to change people’s hearts.”

He noted that the pastoral letter reminds Catholics that “we must create opportunities to hear, to address and to heal wounds” caused by racism because “God demands more of us.”

One way dioceses rose to that challenge — pre-pandemic — was to conduct listening sessions to allow people to share their experiences with racism.

Folks listened to Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre March 1 during a presentation on “Open Wide Our Hearts.” (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

The sessions, which require a bishop’s presence, “provide the local church an opportunity to hear experiences of what people have gone through,” the archbishop said.

In the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, where he was bishop until last year, Archbishop Fabre requested that Catholic schools teach curriculum developed from the pastoral letter. He has since made the same request here in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

The curriculum provides age-appropriate lessons for each grade level centered on human dignity and racism. For example, a kindergarten lesson instructs students to crack open brown and white eggs “and see that they’re both the same on the inside,” Archbishop Fabre shared.

The archbishop also discussed how he responded to the murder of George Floyd in 2020. He encouraged his flock to enter into dialogue: “I want you to ask someone racially different than you — how did the death of George Floyd make you feel?” 

“We must invite into dialog those we wouldn’t normally,” he explained. “Parents should provide experiences for their children that encounter people who differ from them racially. 

“Make it clear that God dwells in the equal dignity of each and every person,” he said.

The archbishop noted that though he is “slammed from the left, the progressives, for not doing enough” and “slammed from the right, the very conservative, for doing too much,” he said, “this is the church’s agenda. Too little for some, too much for others, but where God calls us to be.”

The archbishop acknowledged that “it’s easy to say, ‘I’m too old for this.’ ” 

But, quoting Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” he reminded his listeners that it’s not too late to change or make a difference.

“Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way,’ ” says the pope’s first apostolic exhortation. “I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.”

The presentation was organized by St. Bernadette parishioners who participated in the Office of Multicultural Ministry’s Moving Towards Oneness program, according to parishioner Bob Glaser. He said the purpose was to help bring Moving Towards Oneness lessons to the wider parish community. For those interested in learning more about the program, contact the Office of Multicultural Ministry at 471-2146 or omm@archlou.org.

Kayla Bennett
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Kayla Bennett
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