Father Smith Takes a Look at the Catholic Response to Racism

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CatholicNYC Presents continued its series of online talks during the coronavirus pandemic June 8 with Father Kareem Smith speaking on “Racism and the Catholic Response” two weeks after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

The presentation on Facebook Live was sponsored by the Office of Young Adult Outreach.

Father Smith, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2018, is parochial vicar of Annunciation-Our Lady of Fatima parish in Crestwood. He grew up in Holy Rosary parish in the Bronx, which the priest called “extremely diverse.”

“I grew up with everyone under the sun, with people from every continent. We worshipped together, and it’s a beautiful parish community,” Father Smith said. “For a long time as a Catholic, I thought this was the reality. I thought everybody shared in this experience. It wasn’t until I went to the seminary, college and other places where I began to meet Catholics who did not have similar experiences.”

At the outset, Father Smith shared the definition of racism, which Merriam-Webster dictionary says is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

“This is a very loaded discussion to have at this time in our nation,” Father Smith said. “The Church’s response to racism, if we’re going to be honest, has been slow. One hundred and two years after the end of slavery and one year after the end of segregation is the first time in the history of the Church where we hear a response on racism right from the Church.”

Father Smith was referring to the 1965 Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, which addresses the Church in the Modern World. In 1979, the U.S. Bishops issued a pastoral letter on racism, “Brothers and Sisters to Us.”

“It was put together by the black bishops of the United States and it addresses the concerns of the entire bishops’ conference on what racism is and how it affects people’s lives,” Father Smith said. 

“The bishops say this is just not the call of one community to fight for this justice but it is the call of the entire Church to rally for the dignity of each and every person. We need to do so with and for the black community to say that we are in this fight together.”

Father Smith reminded viewers Jesus is looking at them as the solution, to love their neighbors above themselves and to love all people because everyone is created in His image and likeness.

“When we pick and choose who to love, then we commit the sin of racism,” he said.

“In order for all lives to matter, we have to acknowledge these black lives do matter and we need to say, ‘Let’s walk with them,’ ‘Let’s accompany them,’ so that we might be able to together run to the next injustice that we see in society, run to the next issue that the Church needs to stand up and to lead us through.

“Because until all lives, all people, have been freed from the bonds of racism, have been freed from the bonds of things that divide us and separate us, then we cannot say on a unified front that all lives matter.”

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