The fourth annual “Walking Together: Louisville Pilgrimage for Racial Justice and Reconciliation” began Sept. 15 with a presentation by Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre.
Speaking to about 30 people gathered at the Flaget Center, the archbishop discussed the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism” and offered five “ways forward.”
He began by sharing some background on the 2018 document. The death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., was the impetus for the pastoral letter, he said.
“We sensed something very different going on with race,” said Archbishop Fabre. “We thought there needed to be a new pastoral.”
Reflecting themes explored in the pastoral letter, Archbishop Fabre suggested five “ways forward” in dealing with racism.
— Acknowledge there’s a problem.
“The primary way forward with regards to dealing with the sin of racism is to acknowledge we have a problem,” the archbishop said. Racism affects the church and the nation on a personal, interpersonal and structural level, he said.
— Understand and proclaim that racism is a life issue.
“People are dying because of racism” and individuals must work for racial justice with the “same vigor” with which they respond to other life issues, Archbishop Fabre said, noting, “There’s a hill we need to climb to get people to understand that racism is a pro-life issue.”
— Address “rampant individualism.”
“Racism traps people into individualism and self-focus,” which leads them to blame others for the problems they perceive in their lives, Archbishop Fabre said.
“Open Wide Our Hearts” invites people into dialogue with those they “may not regularly seek out. We must encounter others,” he said.
Following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Archbishop Fabre said he asked his parishioners to go out and speak to someone racially different. He said two white parishioners later told him they’d not only encountered and gotten to hear the stories of African Americans, but they’d formed relationships with them.
Along that same line, he said, the church’s growing racial diversity “presents an opportunity for growth. There can be unity and grace in this diversity,” he said.
— Catholics are “uniquely called” to a conversion of heart.
Civil laws play a role in rooting out racism, but as “people of faith it’s ours to undertake a deeper task — a genuine conversion of heart,” said Archbishop Fabre, noting this is what “Open Wide Our Hearts” requires from the church. Laws, he said, will only lead us to tolerance, but “only a conversion of heart will lead us to being brothers and sisters.”
In addition, he said, “We must each examine our own hearts and see what we find there before we catechize others.”
— Rely on the power of prayer.
Lately, prayers are dismissed as having no effect, but it will take “personal, liturgical and communal prayers to end racism,” the archbishop said. “Authentic prayer always leads us to constructive action and action must always be guided by prayer.”
Archbishop Fabre encouraged his listeners, saying, “The work is hard, the work is slow, but the work is being done. I believe that,” he said.
The work continued Sept. 16 in a very public way, as about 20 people, Black and white, took part in the second day of the pilgrimage.
Some walking, some riding in vehicles, pilgrims participated in a four-mile pilgrimage from Christ the King Church on South 44th Street to the Cathedral of the Assumption on South Fifth Street. The pilgrims stopped for prayer along the route at St. Martin de Porres Church and St. Augustine Church.
Janice Mulligan, associate director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, a co-sponsor of the event, said she saw people walking and talking together.
“The whole experience was very powerful. We physically, spiritually and prayerfully crossed that Ninth Street divide and that’s a powerful and visual statement,” Mulligan said. “West of Ninth Street is typically where people consider the West End to begin, where there’s a history” of a lack of investment and services.
When the walk ended at the cathedral, about 60 people gathered for conversation over lunch, Mulligan said.