WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The sin of
racism must be recognized, confronted and overcome, Washington Cardinal Donald W.
Wuerl said in a new pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Racism Today."
"Intolerance and racism will not
go away without a concerted awareness and effort on everyone's part. Regularly
we must renew the commitment to drive it out of our hearts, our lives and our
community," the cardinal wrote in a letter dated Nov. 1, All Saints' Day, that
was addressed to the clergy, religious and laity of the Catholic Church of
The letter from Washington's
archbishop comes at a time when racism issues and calls for racial
justice have sparked protests on city streets, college campuses and even pro
football fields across the country.
"The mission of reconciliation
takes on fresh emphasis today as racism continues to manifest itself in our
country, requiring us to strengthen our efforts. We are all aware of incidents
both national and closer to home that call attention to the continuing racial
tensions in our society," Cardinal Wuerl wrote.
He noted that the nation's
Catholic bishops have established an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism made up of
clergy, laywomen and laymen "to speak out against this divisive evil that leave
great harm in its wake."
The cardinal added that, "It is
our faith that calls us to see each other as members of God's family. It is our
faith that calls us to confront and overcome racism."
He cited the story of creation
from the Book of Genesis and Catholic teaching in the Catechism of
the Catholic Church on the equality and human dignity of all people.
"What makes us equal before God
and what should make us equal in dignity before each other," Cardinal Wuerl
noted, "is that we are all sisters and brothers of one another, because we are
all children of the same loving God who brought us into being."
Racism, he said, is a "sin
against our neighbor" that offends God and goes against the unity of the body
of Christ, a unity that all Christians share by means of their baptism.
The letter's release coincides
with the Catholic Church's celebration of November as Black Catholic History Month.
The cardinal noted how the "stain of racism" has affected people in every
continent throughout history, often manifesting itself in marginalization,
discrimination and oppression to indigenous people or newcomers.
But the cardinal added that "in
our homeland, the most profound and extensive evidence of racism lies in the
sin of centuries of human trafficking, enslavement, segregation and the
lingering effects experienced by African-American men, women and children."
He noted that St. John Paul II in
the Great Jubilee Year called for the recognition of sins committed by members of
the church during its history.
"Today we need to acknowledge
past sins of racism and, in a spirit of reconciliation, move toward a church
and society where the wounds of racism are healed," Cardinal Wuerl said. "In
this process, we need to go forward in the light of faith, embracing all of
those around us, realizing that those wounded by the sin of racism should never
"At the same time," he continued,
"we acknowledge the witness of African-American Catholics who through eras of
enslavement, segregation and societal racism have remained steadfastly
faithful. We also recognize the enduring faith of immigrants who have not
always felt welcome in the communities they now call home."
"The Challenge of Racism Today"
is the 10th pastoral letter issued by Cardinal Wuerl as archbishop of
Earlier letters focused on
topics such as supporting and strengthening Catholic education: upholding
Catholic identity in challenging times; finding a spiritual home in the church;
sharing the Catholic faith with others; and relying on God's mercy in the
sacrament of reconciliation.
Cardinal Wuerl opened his new
pastoral letter describing how he sees the diverse face of the Catholic Church as he
celebrates Mass in churches throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. More than
620,000 Catholics live in the area covered by the archdiocese, which includes the city of Washington and
the suburbs and rural countryside of five surrounding Maryland counties.
"On almost any Sunday, we can
join neighbors and newcomers from varied backgrounds," the cardinal wrote. "We
take great pride in the coming together for Mass of women and men, young and
old, from so many lands, ethnic heritages and cultural traditions. Often we can
point to this unity as a sign of the power of grace to bring people together."
He described the pioneering efforts
of Cardinal Patrick O'Boyle. Soon after becoming Washington's first resident
archbishop in 1948, he began integrating Catholic schools in the archdiocese.
This took place years before the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of
Education ruling in 1954 that outlawed segregated schools.
Cardinal O'Boyle also offered
the invocation at the 1963 March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther
King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Cardinal Wuerl said his pastoral
letter underscored the Catholic teaching on racial justice and equality shared
and expressed over the years by every archbishop of Washington.
Racism, the cardinal noted,
continues to manifest itself in many ways, as it is experienced personally, in
institutions or in society. "Often racism is both learned from others and born
of ignorance from not interacting with people who are from a different culture
and ethnic heritage," he wrote, adding, "…The pain it causes in people's lives
is very real."
Cardinal Wuerl said people's
diversity enriches the Catholic Church and our world, and the response to
Christ's love should inspire Christians to work for solidarity.
"As we struggle to remove the
attitudes that nurture racism and the actions that express it, we must show how
the differences we find in skin color, national origin or cultural diversity
are enriching," he wrote. "Equality does not mean uniformity. Rather each
person should be seen in his or her uniqueness as a reflection of the glory of
God and a full, complete member of the human family."
The cardinal said all of the
parishes and schools in the archdiocese seek "to provide a welcoming and
inclusive home for all. We must all seek to affirm and rejoice in the gift of
our diversity," he said. "Such a task is underscored in our archdiocesan-wide
trainings in intercultural competency for parishes, schools, programs for our
seminarians, and newly ordained priests to be better able to serve culturally
and ethnically diverse communities."
He said the archdiocese's Office
of Cultural Diversity and Outreach sponsors many Masses and other faith and
cultural events to celebrate the diverse heritage of Catholics. Catholic
Charities and the Spanish Catholic Center provide a range of services, and Catholic
schools in the archdiocese educate children from all backgrounds.
He also encouraged parishes to "follow
Pope Francis's example in promoting a spirit of dialogue and encounter with
others," by confronting the evil of racism and promoting unity and
understanding through homilies, prayers at Mass, and parish programs and
Cardinal Wuerl said the effects
of racism on housing, employment, public education and the criminal justice
system need to be addressed.
Religious faith has an important
role, he added, in confronting the key challenges of today, especially in
standing resolutely for the dignity of all human life.
Eliminating racism might seem
"too great a task for any one of us or even for the whole church," Cardinal
"Yet we place our confidence in
the Lord. In Christ, we are brothers and sisters to one another. With Christ,
we stand in the spirit of justice, love and peace," he said.