By Ceil Roeger, OP
This month, Pax Christi-Houston and the Dominican Sisters of Houston hosted “We Grow Together—Catholic Communities of Color and Pax Christi USA” at the Dominican Center for Spirituality in Houston, Texas. The overarching goal of the day was to bring Catholics of different ethnicities together to engage in an in-depth look at the PCUSA initiatives: Spirituality of Non-Violence and Peacemaking; Disarmament, Demilitarization and Reconciliation with Justice, Economic and Interracial Justice in the United States, and Human Rights and Global Restoration.
Sister Patricia Chappell, SSNdeN, executive director of PCUSA, offered an opening prayer and a brief introduction to Pax Christi and its purpose and goals. Sister Anne-Louise Nadeau, SNDdeN, spoke on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and the link to the PCUSA initiatives. Sister Anne-Louise began by describing Catholic Social Teaching as “the best-kept secret” of the Catholic Church. This was followed by two very moving presentations of the “Corrective History: The Black and Hispanic Story in the Catholic Church in the United States.”
Ronaldo M. Cruz, MSW, who served the Catholic Church as a volunteer and professional lay minister for more than 45 years, primarily working in Justice and Peace Ministry and among Hispanic Catholics at the local, state, regional and national levels, gave an overview of Hispanic history in the United States. This history involves many forms of discrimination, including conquest, colonization, displacement, imperialism, and collusion between church and state. Much of this was driven by greed and expansionism. Over time, growth and education, economic growth and professionalism of the oppressed peoples is forcing change and bringing about hope and solidarity.
Sister Jamie Phelps, OP, PhD, is an Adrian Dominican and former director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies and the Katherine Drexel Professor of Systematic Theology of Xavier University of Louisiana. Sister Jamie presented an overview of the history and experiences of black Catholics in the United States. As a result of the racism that continued after the end of the Civil War, independent black schools and colleges as well as independent businesses were established in the late 19th century and flourished throughout the 20th century. Beginning in the 20th century, movements and organizations formed to address the needs and desires of black Catholics.
For black and Hispanic Catholic communities, the movement toward multiculturalism in the 21st century is a beginning for people to find common ground to address issues faced by all. Getting to know one another and learning about other cultures leads to developing a deeper respect and appreciation for differences.
After lunch, the groups integrated for collaboration on mutual and concrete steps to respond to issues of injustice in our communities. Each group was asked to address one of the PCUSA initiatives by reflecting on the current status of an issue and its impact on the local community. Then group members were directed to ask what Catholic social teachings are violated, and come up with a strategy to address it.
As the tables reported back to the large group at the end, gangs and gun violence were mentioned several times. Questions were raised about legislation dealing with open carry of weapons and whether requiring a permit to own and carry a weapon is against the Second Amendment. It was suggested that one concrete action everyone could take would be to contact our representatives to let them know our opposition to these bills, and if they should pass, to lobby Governor Abbott to veto them.
The response from the participants to the workshop was positive. One responded that he found it eye-opening because he did not know about the principles of Catholic social teaching. He commented that he could use the principles in the group work he does with young boys helping them learn respect for self and others.
Another commented, “So, as I walk away from this workshop, I have a renewed sense of hope, a fresh fire for living the call of the Gospel, and a sincere belief that God is faithful, even if the world does not always reflect that faithfulness.” This sense of hope was evident as people talked of ways that they could continue to connect. Frank Skeith, regional coordinator for Pax Christi Houston, invited everyone to the March Pax Christi meeting as a way to stay connected and to move forward in working together to address the issues.