Prayer Service for Racial Justice

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The following is the text of the homily given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades in a livestreamed Prayer Service for Racial Justice at Bishop Luers High School on September 9, the Feast of St. Peter Claver

A few months ago, our nation witnessed the horrifying and inexcusable killing of George Floyd. In the succeeding weeks and months, there has been social unrest, peaceful protests against racism in our country as well as eruptions of violence and looting. There’s a lot of anger and division in our society. Two months ago, I met with Deacon Mel Tardy, whom I am so grateful is here with us today, and with the other members of our Diocesan Black Catholic Advisory Board. I wanted to hear how they were doing and their perspectives on the situation in our country and our response as Catholics in this situation. Their insights are always so helpful to me. I decided, after that meeting, that I wanted to pray with the youth of our diocese for an end to racial injustice. I have so much hope in you, our young people, and so we are here today at Bishop Luers and joined via livestream video with all the Catholic high school students and many junior high students throughout our diocese.

Why did I select today, Sept. 9, for this prayer service? Because today is the feast of the patron saint of race relations, St. Peter Claver. And because the bishops of the United States have designated this feast as a day of prayer and fasting for peace in our communities. We beg the Lord to strengthen our resolve and to bless our efforts to end racism and bring about greater peace in our communities and greater harmony among people of different races.

Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit missionary who came to America in the year 1610. He came to the city that was the chief African slave market in the world: Cartagena, Colombia. There he became known as “the apostle to the slaves” and “the slave of the slaves.” For 44 years, he served the physical and spiritual needs of the slaves, 1,000 of whom arrived every day from Africa. Upon their arrival, St. Peter Claver would board the ships to tend to the immediate medical needs of those held in bondage who had endured unimaginable emotional and physical suffering in the journey across the ocean. He would continue to minister to them after they disembarked and were moved to slave camps.

Besides caring for their physical and medical needs, he sought to meet their spiritual needs by teaching them about God and their dignity as human beings created in God’s image. It is reported that St. Peter Claver baptized over 300,000 slaves over the course of his many years of service in Cartagena. He also served as an advocate for the slaves before the slave traders. Because of his ministry and advocacy, Peter Claver was rejected and ostracized by many. Though of his own power he could not suppress the slave trade, he could alleviate some of its suffering. We ask St. Peter Claver to intercede for us and for our nation and our world that continues to be infected, not only by Covid-19, but by the deadly virus of racism.

Young brothers and sisters in Christ, you have learned in your Catholic education the two great commandments of Jesus that are at the heart of the Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor. These commandments are so inextricably connected, that, as St. John teaches, if one says he loves God, but hates his neighbor, he is a liar. Racism is a grievous sin against Jesus’ commandment of love. It is, as the bishops of the United States have taught, “an intrinsic evil,” that is, it is always and everywhere wrong. It is a grave violation of the most fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching: the sacred and inviolable dignity of every human person. Racist attitudes, holding that one’s own race or ethnicity is superior and judging others as inferior (for example, white supremacy) are evil. Racist attitudes often lead to racist acts: exclusion, mistreatment and unjust discrimination against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Such racist acts are sinful. They fail to acknowledge the dignity of others, to recognize others as the neighbors Jesus calls us to love. Racism