By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Calling on the faithful to speak out about racism, Sister Anita Baird said that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. believed one can’t be a racist and a Christian.
Sister Baird, a member of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, offered the reflection at the 34th Archdiocesan Community Wide Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Jan. 21. Her listeners, who were gathered at the Cathedral of the Assumption to observe Martin Luther King Day, responded with a round of applause.
She offered a strongly-worded reflection on racism at the annual event, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministries. The program was also one of the archdiocese’s Days of Human Dignity, a series of events designed to highlight the dignity of human life.
Sister Baird, a native of Chicago and the founding director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Racial Justice, said her work flows from the Eucharist.
“The Eucharist compels us to live a life of truth built on justice and animated by love. We are called to build a new heaven and a new earth where all of God’s children can live in human dignity and respect, regardless of the color of their skin, country of origin or language spoken,” said Sister Baird.
It’s through the power of the Eucharist, she said, that we are one in Christ.
“The common denominator is no longer color or ethnic origin or common language or common country. The common denominator is love,” she said.
The Rev. King envisioned a “beloved community,” she said, where human dignity is the right of every human being regardless of race or gender, ethnic background or sexual orientation,” she said.
She called to mind the Rev. King’s 1967 speech, “Where do we go from here,” in which the civil right leader said the effects of hundreds of years of slavery and segregation can’t be wiped out in a generation or two.
“He said this over 50 years ago and the struggle goes on. Fifty years is a short period of time to right the wrongs of a period of 400 years,” Sister Baird said.
She noted that 2019 marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first African people to the shores of America in 1619.
“Four hundred years when much of the wealth of our nation was built on the backs of enslaved people,” she said. “We are still fighting for economic justice and true equality.”
“We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate,” she said. “We must speak out about the church, which often remains silent when speaking from the pulpit about the sin of racism that continues to fester in the church that we love.”
Sister Baird noted a 2017 book by Father Bryan Massingale, “The Church’s Appalling Silence on Racism.”
In it he writes: “The truth is that many white Christians find no contradiction between their so-called Christian faith and their angers, fears, and resentments about people of color. Too often they never hear such angers and resentments challenged from their pulpits or denounced by their ministers. They rarely hear their racist jokes, slurs, and stereotypes — much less their discriminatory behaviors — labeled as ‘sin’ by their pastors.”
America, she declared, is on the brink of losing its soul. She noted church leaders who do not speak out forcefully enough on racism; government leaders who promote hate; immigrants who are denied their rights and young immigrants — previously protected under DACA — threatened with deportation; as well as children who are separated from their parents and put in “cages.”
“We must speak out in truth if we are to be true to the Gospel. We must speak out in truth to honor all who have given their lives for freedom here in the world,” she said.
The question she said is how do we “untangle our hearts, our psyches and souls. How do we tear down the racist constructs of our current society?”
There is no doubt, she said, that the struggle for racial justice and equity continues.
“We must recognize that this work of systemic change is for the long haul,” she said. “We must remain vigilant. We must run our leg of the race and pass the baton on for these children are hoping and depending on us to leave them a better world than the one they came into. We have work to do.”
She pondered the question, ‘Do we really honor the legacy of his accomplishments” on the nationally-designated holiday.
“It’s not enough to honor Dr. King with a holiday for people to sleep in, eat too much and do nothing. This holiday is for work.”
If we are truly to honor him, she said, “we must walk the walk he walked.”
“We must honor him with our actions,” she said.