Bishop says work to address racism is ‘hard’ and ‘slow’ but must be done

Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La., gave a presentation entitled “How can we move forward in responding to issues of racism in the church and our communities?” at the Archdiocese of Louisville’s online Archdiocesan Leadership Institute, March 9. (Zoom screen image capture by Jessica Able)

The work it takes to respond to the issue of racism in the church and the wider community is difficult and slow but it must be done, said Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La.

Speaking at the Archdiocese of Louisville’s online Archdiocesan Leadership Institute March 9, Bishop Fabre discussed “Witnessing to the dignity of the human person as an antidote to the grave sin of racism.” And he shared six ways to respond to racism.

Typically, the Archdiocesan Leadership Institute draws parish leaders, clergy, staff and volunteers together for a day-long gathering of learning and sharing, but this one was presented via the online Zoom platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bishop Fabre spoke to a group of 149 individuals, including Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor, members of the clergy and individuals who serve in various ministries in the archdiocese.

During the first part of the day, Bishop Fabre discussed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter on racism “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.” Bishops Fabre, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, played a key role in drafting the letter.

His afternoon presentation posed the question: “How can we move forward in responding to issues of racism in the church and our communities?”

Bishop Fabre said, “The work is hard and the work is slow, but the work must be done. It’s our call as a church and our task as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Racism affects how “we experience the journey through life,” he said.

For some that journey is one of “optimism, hope and advancement,” he said. For others, it’s one of “fear, dread, injustice and descrimination.”

Bishop Fabre shared six ways to respond to the sin of racism:

  1. “Recognize and respond to racism as a life issue,” he said. “Racism attacks the human life and dignity of it’s victims. …To truly and authentically be pro-life, we must strive to dismantle in our own hearts as well as in society all attacks against the sanctity of life and one such attack is racism.”
  2. Seek to overcome individualism and encounter others who are racially different. Racism “traps people into individualism, blaming others for the misfortunes they encounter in life,” said Bishop Fabre. He noted that “Open Wide Our Hearts: An Enduring Call to Love,” released by the U.S. bishops in 2018 stated that only by “ ‘forging authentic relationships can we truly see each other as Christ sees us.’ ” This can only happen, he said, “if we step out of individualism.”
  3. Accept the growing racial diversity in the nation and the church. “The church in the U.S. has been enriched by many races and cultures. … We must believe and act upon the fact that there can be unity in our diversity,” said Bishop Fabre. He noted that racism is typically seen as a “Black and white” issue, but noted that in reality racism affects “people of all colors.” “Educating ourselves on the church’s teachings and catechizing the youth and adults must be a way forward,” said the bishop.
  4. Seek the conversion of one’s own heart. Bishop Fabre said that while it’s important to work for civil legislation that protects people from racism, “as people of faith we must understand that it is ours to undertake a deeper task,” he said. “Each must examine our own hearts … or what we declare will be empty words.”
  5. Preach against racism. He urged members of the clergy to regularly preach against racism. “We all know that preaching against racism will elicit a response, but we must nonetheless lead our people to a path of goodness, charity, justice and peace,” said the bishop. It’s also necessary to give people hope and to remind them of the “grace available to overcome racism,” he said.
  6. Pray for an end to racism. “Rely on the power of prayer. Prayers are often dismissed in these times as having no effect, but authentic prayer keeps us honest about where we are in our fight against racism,” said Bishop Fabre.

Bishop Fabre’s presentation was followed by a question and answer session.

The Archdiocesan Leadership Institute was funded by the Addressing Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders Lilly Endowment Grant.

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