New York Clergy, Seminarians Told Preaching Can Help Address Racism

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In a special webinar requested by Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana told New York priests, deacons and seminarians “we must preach on racism because it is an evil and sin that continues to burden our Church and society, and it is a challenge that we must help our people to address and overcome.” “My dear brothers, Jesus Christ has sent us as fishers of men, and we want to catch souls, not the endless red herrings that are always snapping at our lines,” said Bishop Fabre, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc committee against racism, in his Sept. 22 presentation, “Preaching Against Racism.” 

About 275 priests, deacons and seminarians of the Archdiocese of New York and the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre participated in the afternoon event sponsored by the archdiocesan Chancery Office.

Organizers noted that the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis shocked most Americans, and people of all backgrounds took to the streets across the nation in protest. Four police officers face criminal charges in Floyd’s death. 

Cardinal Dolan subsequently invited Bishop Fabre “to speak with us on the topic, ‘Preaching Against Racism.’”

Bishop Fabre, who cited related writings including USCCB statements, said that while civil laws have a role to play, racism is at its core a moral and spiritual problem, which can only be overcome by a conversion of heart, “and our preaching is a part of fostering such a conversion of heart.”

Bishop Fabre told the priests, deacons and seminarians that when they preach about racism they must root themselves in the Gospel perspective and the teaching of the Church. Addressing racism is a life issue, and should not merely echo secular solutions, he said.

“When preaching on racism, we address racism as an attack against our union and our unity as the Church, and as an attack against life,” Bishop Fabre said. “When preaching on racism we must remember that we will get a reaction from some, but we must nonetheless urge others to follow the path of charity, justice and peace. And we must remember to give people hope, and not simply berate anyone.”

“And, finally, when preaching on racism, we must remember to remain focused on overcoming racism and not allow our homilies to get lost in issues and discussions that attempt to take the focus off of accomplishing what we need to do.”

The bishop earlier noted that he would be “approaching racism primarily from my own experience and competence, which is as a pastor of souls, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a black Roman Catholic bishop in the United States.”

Cardinal Dolan, introducing the bishop, said, “Bishop Fabre, I welcome you, and thank you for your leadership nationally, internationally (in preaching against racism) and for being with us today as our presenter…We’re talking about a pro-life issue here.” 

Noting that the presentation topic was a delicate one, the cardinal also said, “We have to come together at a time of national urgency. We have to be healers; we have to be good shepherds.” He thanked the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry for its help planning the webinar.

As they prepared for the webinar, attendees were encouraged to watch a YouTube video of Bishop Fabre addressing the people of his diocese following George Floyd’s death. They were also asked to read a 2018 USCCB pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” and a July 27 America magazine article by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, “How Church Teaching Can Help Explain Why ‘Black Lives Matter.’” 

The webinar was facilitated by Father Gregory Chisholm, S.J., pastor of St. Borromeo, Resurrection and All Saints parish in Central Harlem, where he is regional dean. 

Father George Stewart, pastor of St. Augustine-Our Lady of Victory parish in the Bronx, supplemented Bishop Fabre’s presentation with his own remarks about serving African-American and Latino congregations like his current parish, and others with parishioners primarily of Caucasian European ancestry. He was a parochial vicar years ago at St. Margaret parish in Pearl River, a congregation of largely Irish descent.

“The response to it (racism) has been sporadic at best. Today’s world demands a more immediate and direct approach; there is an urgency in the air,” said Father Stewart, who is Caucasian and a community/NYPD liaison. 

Bishop Fabre concluded his presentation the same way as the USCCB pastoral letter does, with a prayer to “Our Blessed Mother.” 

“Mary, friend and mother to all…we ask for your help in obtaining from your Son the grace we need to overcome the evil of racism and to build a just society…Mother of the Church, the Spirit of your Son Jesus warms our hearts: pray for us.”

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