Reflection on racism takes shape at parish

Demonstrators voiced support for racial justice reform during a rally held at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville June 1. A new initiative at St. Agnes Church in the Highlands is tackling the issue, and the faith community recently reflected on racial justice during Advent. (Record File Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Parishioners at St. Agnes Church wrapped up the year reflecting on racial justice.

During the Advent season, the parish, located at 1920 Newburg Road, invited parishioners and school families to pray and reflect on racial justice as part of an Advent reflection called “Behold The Promise.”

Members of the parish, teachers and students from St. Agnes School compiled an Advent booklet filled with stories, prayers and questions for reflection.

One of the entries for a day during the second week of Advent, asked parishioners to reflect on some racial injustices, including:

“African-Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white Americans.”
“Blacks are three and a half times as likely to die of COVID-19 as whites.”
“Black Americans are more than twice as likely to die at the hands of a police officer as white Americans.”

Along with the reflection, participants were asked to ponder the question, “How have I turned a blind eye or been blinded to the realities of racial disparity in my community and my country?”

The Advent reflection is part of a new initiative to help the mostly white parish talk about racism, said Fred Meirose, a long-time parishioner of St. Agnes who is helping lead the effort. Meirose said racial justice had been an issue on his mind, but he wasn’t sure how to get a conversation started in his faith community. Over the past year, the issue became “such a prevalent subject” that an informal group formed in the parish to brainstorm ways to create awareness and start conversations about racism, he said.

The group began by sharing books and reading materials with the parish.

“For a long time and throughout not only in the parish but in the community, silence has always been an option. Silence has not been an option for the Black community because they’ve been facing it their whole life,” he said. “We’re just trying to let people see racism is a life issue for all of us.”

St. Agnes’ pastoral associate Sheila Murphy said the goal of the effort is not only to build awareness but to also adopt “concrete action steps for transformation,” whether those be social action or creating a group that will work toward attracting people of color to the school. It’s still too early to determine what those steps may be, but the hope, she said, is that St. Agnes might grow into the “beloved community” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of.

“There’s not a lot of diversity. It’s not that St. Agnes is not involved in doing good works. I would dream that we become the type of community God meant us to be, where diversity is appreciated and celebrated and we reflect our broader Louisville community,” said Murphy. She noted that’s a “lofty” goal but said she’s encouraged by the response to what’s already being done in the parish, including the Advent reflection.

“People are interested once they know about it,” she said. “I had no idea there would be so much interest.”

Passionist Father Justin Nelson, pastor of St. Agnes, said he is encouraging his parishioners and allowing them to take the lead. He’s aware, he said, that racial justice is a sensitive issue and he doesn’t want any parishioners to feel threatened. He wants everyone to be a part of the conversation, knowing things won’t change overnight and that “we all need to be educated.”

“Eventually, as Christians, our life needs to be like Jesus’, loving and respecting people the way they are. No matter who you are, God loves you. We are to follow that,” said Father Nelson. “I hope that as a church, a community and an archdiocese we can move forward in loving everyone as God loves us.”

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