By Most Rev. Fernand Cheri, O.F.M.
Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans
Let us begin:
For several years now the Archdiocese of New Orleans has lifted up this prayer at every eucharistic celebration:
‘OUR FAMILY PRAYER’
Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.
We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.
Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our times. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.
Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us.
Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.
Is it not amazing and appropriate that an archdiocese that knows full well the trauma of violence, murder and racism confesses our sinfulness in such an honest plea?
The Archdiocese of New Orleans was born in the midst of these realities, and yet for almost 300 years of its existence, it has stood tall by addressing these problems over and over again.
Sometimes it has been successful – despite those times when it has seemed to crumble in the midst of incredible turmoil, trials and tribulations.
Nevertheless, the archdiocese keeps moving forward, striving to be a greater reflection of the Risen Christ to all. I am especially proud that I can say truthfully, “We may not be where we ought to be; we may not be where we are going to be, but thank God, we ain’t where we were.”
Through the years we have overcome Jim Crow laws in our churches; we have confronted segregation, moving to the integration of Catholic schools; we have succumbed to and still overcome the tyranny of “confederate mind sets”; and now, as we are perplexed by current events that have leaders of this country shame-faced and bewildered, the Archdiocese of New Orleans knows full well it cannot be silent.
We must act.
Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these overwhelming obstacles, Mother Henriette Delille stood tall and, against every imaginable obstacle, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, who this year celebrate 175 years of nursing and educational ministry.
Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these devastating trials, St. Katharine Drexel stood tall and prophetically and stubbornly established Xavier University of Louisiana, the only Black Catholic university in the United States, schools and parishes.
Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these overpowering racial complications, we still have 23 predominantly Black Catholic parishes and another 10 that are over 33 percent Black Catholic.
Let us not forget in this archdiocese, through these crushing hurdles, there have been 51 years of Black Catholic episcopal leadership, to whom I myself give proud testimony. There is a legacy to build upon and keep alive in the midst of struggle.
There are no words strong enough to express the horror of the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. There is no solace for the hatred that took the lives of nine black worshipers in the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have made it clear that their movement is “a call to end violence, and that call to end violence was true two years ago, was true 10 days ago and is true today.” Of course, all lives matter; but if we were truly to comprehend the number of black males who die each day due to violence in this country – and our nation’s muted response to this abomination – an objective observer might assume that black lives matter less than other lives.
Catholic social teaching calls us all to work for the common good, help build a just society, uphold the dignity of human life and lift up our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters.
The following paragraphs describe the seven themes of Catholic social teaching:
1. Life and human dignity of the human person
Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, every person’s life and dignity must be respected and supported from conception through natural death. We believe that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
2. Call to family, community and participation
The human person is not only sacred, but social. How we organize our society – socially, economically, legally and politically – directly affects human dignity and the ability of every human person to grow in community. Marriage and family, the foundations for social life, should be strengthened and supported. Every person has a right to participate in society and a corresponding duty to work for the advancement of the common good and the well-being of all.
We are one human family. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Our love for all of our brothers and sisters calls us to seek a peaceful and just society where goods are distributed fairly, opportunity is promoted equally and the dignity of all is respected.
4. Dignity of work
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. To uphold the dignity of work, the basic rights of workers must be respected – the right to productive work, to fair and livable wages, and to organize and join a union.
5. Rights and responsibilities
Every person has a fundamental right to life – the right that makes all other rights possible. Each person also has a right to the conditions for living a decent life – food, health care, housing, education and employment. We have a corresponding duty to secure and respect these rights for others and to fulfill our responsibilities to our families, to each other and to our larger society.
6. Option for the poor and vulnerable
Scripture teaches that God has a special concern for the poor and vulnerable. The church calls on all of us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first. This preferential option for the poor and vulnerable should be reflected in both our daily lives and public policies. A fundamental measure of our society is how we care for and stand with our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters.
7. Care for God’s creation
The world that God created has been entrusted to all of us. Our stewardship of the earth is a form of participation in God’s act of creating and sustaining the world. In our use of creation, we must be guided by a concern for generations to come. We show our respect for the Creator by our care for creation.
Recently, I wrote this to the members of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA):
Two things struck me as a charge for us today. When evil people plot, we must plan. It is imperative that those of us who work for the good, continue to plan events – prayer services and alternative social justice actions. We must believe that our resolve to work for justice in our communities will bear much fruit for righteousness and truth.
Secondly, former First Lady Michelle Obama stated, “When they go low, we go high.” Just as Jesus pointed out to his disciples that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law, we must look deeper into the laws and how they call us to fulfillment in Christ.
We go high into how we must be in right relationship with our brothers and sisters. It is not enough to know the laws of the land; we must understand and push for how they call us into right relationship together. We go high when we pursue ways to build up the body of Christ, respecting the dignity and integrity of all people no matter race, language or way of life. It is our charge to keep as true disciples of Jesus.
I will be facilitating a day of reflection for the board of the Racial Harmony Commission of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I plan on using “Our Family Prayer” as a jumping-off point. What strikes you and what scratches where you itch? I plan on having members share in their respective ethnic groups and then in a general session, together. I want to challenge them to use the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching to address racism in their lives and the community. Hopefully, they will choose one of these teachings to work on for this year.
Meanwhile, I will be encouraging Black Catholics to address the phenomenon of internalized racism that plagues our efforts and our lives. I know that racism can seem to be overwhelming, but we must work step by step and “wade in the water” wherever we find ourselves.
I believe in the power of God that we have within each of us. Therefore, we have to roll up our sleeves and be about the work before us. As St. Francis said to the brothers upon his death, “Let us begin brothers (and sisters), for up to now, we have done little or nothing.”
+Bishop Fernand J. Cheri III, OFM
Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans