Archbishop George J. Lucas greets Clarissa Love prior to a Nov. 2 listening session on racism at Omaha’s Highlander Center, sponsored by the archdiocese’s Black Catholic Implementation Team. Steve Goodwin, left, and Steven Gregory are in the background. All three are members of St. Benedict the Moor Parish. MIKE MAY/STAFF

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Listening session airs personal stories of racism

Being eyed suspiciously and followed while shopping.

Having to sit in the balcony, away from the main congregation, in an Omaha Catholic church during the height of racial segregation.

Being looked down upon by another minority group at school.

These were some of the stories of pain and humiliation shared during a listening session on racism Nov. 2 at Omaha’s Highlander Center, sponsored by the archdiocese’s Black Catholic Implementation Team, a chapter of the National Black Catholic Congress.

In response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts – the Enduring Call to Love,” the event highlighted the personal experiences of racism of several members of the community and discussion of ways to overcome its effects.

Attending the listening session were Archbishop George J. Lucas; Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; Danielle Brown, associate director of the committee; and nearly 70 people, including many from the North Omaha community and St. Benedict the Moor Parish.

The ad hoc committee was established in August 2017 in response to increased racial tensions and white nationalism in the U.S., and issued its pastoral letter last November.

As the letter states, “Every racist act – every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity, or place of origin – is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God. In these and in many other such acts, the sin of racism persists in our lives, in our country, and in our world.”

Bishop Fabre said he has attended about a dozen listening sessions around the country this year.

“Whenever I go for these listening sessions, I consider what people share from their hearts as they have done here, really to be sacred,” he said following the testimonies of several attendees.

The testimonies were “very personal, very touching,” said Angela Hardin, implementation team leader and member of St. Benedict the Moor.

But racism in the church is not a problem of the past, she said. “It still happens. That’s something that all of us on the team have experienced.”

For example, she described recent instances of not being acknowledged at the sign of peace when attending Mass at other, mostly-white Omaha parishes.

Remembering history is important, Bishop Fabre said, not to wallow in it, but to own and acknowledge it so as to become instruments of healing and reconciliation through encounter.

He said the USCCB can provide resources and serve as an advocate, but action must take place at the local community and parish level.

“I think it begins with an encounter,” Bishop Fabre said. “Then, I think it begins with saying, OK, as people of faith, what can we do to assist in ridding our church and our society of this evil and scourge of racism.”

Ideas that emerged from group discussions during the session included promoting greater minority participation in archdiocesan programs and events, awareness training for priests, deacons
and seminarians, and inclusion of black history in school curricula, among other activities to raise awareness about racism.

The implementation team plans to form a task force to pursue these and other ideas, Hardin said. She expressed thanks for Archbishop Lucas’ support and said he made it clear that he “did not want (these efforts) to fall by the wayside.”

“I look forward to this conversation continuing in the months ahead,” Archbishop Lucas said. “I hope we’ll have a deeper understanding of the challenges we face in confronting racism and in healing.”