The reports and images of what is now known simply as “Charlottesville” cast a whiplash on our emotions: suddenly we felt a sense of horror, seeing innocence and beauty being violated by malice and ugliness ; anger, too, that the life that God gives so freely and joyously was attacked by human beings spewing hatred and bigotry. We feel also a weariness that we continue to live with the fruit of what many have called the original sin of our great country: slavery. We reel at the hate speech so inappropriate for citizens of a land whose pledge of allegiance mandates and calls for liberty and justice for all !
Our hearts go out to Heather Heyer and to the state troopers, Jay Cullen and Burke Bates, who were killed as a result of these sickening events, as well as to their families. We hold them and the residents of Charlottesville—and even the perpetrators—in our prayers for peace, justice, healing and understanding, and more. But prayers will not be enough.
Racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and discrimination are morally evil. They are the very anti-thesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition which is grounded in love of God and of neighbor. They undermine the very foundation of our country and erode relationships among citizens. They generate hate and vengeance and rupture community. They are, therefore sinful.
As a faith community inspired by the Gospel of Jesus, we Catholics must condemn in the strongest terms the actions and ideologies of the alt-right, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan. We need to recommit ourselves to stand up against racism and offer support for its victims. As we face this evil as a Christian community, I invite all Catholics to join together to examine how we can live out our Christian call. As we do so, we must remember the promise of the Resurrection, life’s victory over sin and death, a promise that does not come easily or immediately but does come with a commitment to every kind of justice.
I am reminded of the words of Pope Francis to the United States Congress two years ago when he said: “I ask everyone with political responsibility to remember two things: human dignity and the common good.” Human dignity stems from our belief that God made every man and woman, no matter their race, country of origin or religion, in his own image ( Genesis 1:26-31) and that God especially loves and cares for the orphan, the widow and the stranger in the land (Deuteronomy 10:17-19). Francis said in that speech: “Each human life is sacred. This theme is about our radical equality before God that leads us to think no less of somebody because they are from a different place or culture…or because of their work or employment situation.”
Francis told our American lawgivers: “You are asked to protect by means of the law, the image and likeness of God on every face.” Again he said to them: “ You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics”—adding the need to care especially for those in situations of greater vulnerability and risk. To be sure, he saw the reality of hatred and violence in our world.
“All of us are quite aware of and deeply worried by the disturbing social and political situation in the world today.” Francis noted that our world is increasingly a place of conflict, violence, hatred and atrocities, “committed even in the name of God and religion”. To our lawmakers, he stated that “We the people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
If the hatred we saw in Charlottesville, and perhaps will see again in other rallies in San Francisco and elsewhere, is a serious sin, we as Catholics and Americans need to do contrition for it, to act boldly against such violence, racism and anti-Semitism, to right the wrongs from its presence in our land by truly embracing, as Pope Francis called us to do two years ago, respect and reverence for human dignity and the pursuit of what is truly a common good for all.