Hope can overcome racism, unity event witnesses say
October 15, 2020
It’s not easy to look different than others, to speak differently or to bear mistreatment graciously, said four Omahans who shared their stories at an Oct. 6 unity prayer service at St. Peter Church in Omaha.
But in God, they have learned patience and found hope, according to the brief testimonies they shared about immigrating to a new country, being victims of prejudice as minorities or trying to bring about societal change.
The service wasn’t meant to be political, “but a witness to the work of Christ in difficult times,” said Father Scott Hastings, the archdiocese’s vicar for clergy and an organizer for the event. About 80 people attended the Prayer and Witness for Unity event, sponsored by four downtown Omaha parishes: St. Mary Magdalene, St. Frances Cabrini, St. Peter and Our Lady of Fatima.
Adam Turner – a St. Frances Cabrini parishioner studying film production at the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – said his father raised him with an awareness that whenever he left his home, he was not only representing himself and his family, but also his Black race.
In the last several months, Turner said, he’s been taking in the protests with an eye toward hope, that people would realize “we’re all made in the image and likeness of God” and that people “would love one another as he loved us.”
Turner said he’s finding people are more open to talking about race, and if a person goes into any situation with an open mind, the Holy Spirit has room to work.
“My hope comes from prayer,” he said, “and Christ working through us to be the change you want to see.”
“Prayer is a powerful thing,” he said. “God works through us every day to answer somebody’s prayer.”
Diana Elizalde, a college student and member of St. Peter Parish, said her relationship with Christ has helped her with any ill treatment she has experienced.
“He has given me the patience … to deal with these situations,” said Elizalde, a receptionist at the St. Vincent de Paul Society who’s involved in the Asociación Jóvenes para Cristo and has been an emcee for the Hispanic Youth Rally.
“For my generation, something has shifted,” she said, “and I hope it’s shifted to something good.”
Martina Saltamacchia, of St. Mary Magdalene Parish, said any response to racism or other evils in the world “has to start with a personal conversion of myself.”
“I can’t separate myself from what I see,” said Saltamacchia, a native of Italy and associate professor of history and director of Medieval/Renaissance studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“I can bring whatever I’m given” to oppose evil and violence, she said. And despite people’s woundedness or frailty, “our faith is a victory.”
Kim Nguyen, of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, arrived in Nebraska in 1975 with her family of nine, refugees of the Vietnam War. They were among the “boat people” packed onto small vessels at sea in dangerous conditions, trying to flee their war-torn home.
As a young student in Omaha, Nguyen was laughed at for her broken English. Once a stranger got out of his car and yelled at her to go back to her country.
Now she looks back and tries to understand why those people acted the way they did, and, she says, she’s strengthened by her faith in God.
God saved her and her family in their perilous escape from Vietnam and has helped them in everything they endured in their new country, said Nguyen, now a secretary for Our Lady of Fatima and an active volunteer.
During her talk she repeated the Blessed Virgin Mary’s words in her Magnificat, prayed earlier at the prayer service: “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.”
A response to racial division can be found in Pope Francis’ new encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” which in English translates to “All Brothers,” Archbishop George J. Lucas said in his homily at the service. The encyclical had been released just two days earlier.
The message that we are all brothers and sisters isn’t new, the archbishop said, but it’s a message for our times and for the entire church.
In his encyclical, Pope Francis “looks out to a world that’s broken,” where people are hurting and inflicting hurt, suffering the consequences of original sin, Archbishop Lucas said.
A Christian response can be seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where a foreigner – a person who looks different, believes differently – sees a brother in need, according to the archbishop and the encyclical.
“We’re invited to draw near” to others, to look on their woundedness and accompany them, like the Good Samaritan, Archbishop Lucas said.
“Social friendship” is another guidance offered by the encyclical, he said, that calls people to be more than casual observers of others, but to be open to friendship and communicating respect.
It’s not enough to “simply tolerate” people, Archbishop Lucas said. One must “acknowledge their inherent goodness.” People have “differences that God himself designed.”
“No one earns dignity,” Archbishop Lucas said. “It’s God-given. … No one has a right to injure it.”