The Catholic Church never taught me how to fight racism.
As a cradle Catholic, the church taught me how to fight abortion, poverty, hunger, violence and even the degradation of the environment.
I learned about the power of prayer. I saw parishes raising money, volunteering locally and protesting publicly. I heard stirring homilies, read books denouncing these evils, and celebrated saints who gave their lives for what was right.
But when it comes to racism — how to form myself as a Catholic and how to raise my children — I have heard next to nothing.
A homily or two, maybe.
A mere mention in the prayers of the faithful.
Where have I learned about racism as a white woman in the United States? From friends who have lived with the evils of racism every single day of their lives. From teachers and professors who have studied the history of our country. From writers, artists and speakers who call people to learn, reflect and act.
Some of these friends, teachers, writers and speakers are Catholic. I have listened to their stories of hatred and discrimination in seminaries, schools and parishes. I have felt nausea and grief at hearing how they have not felt at home in the church.
No individual experience is monolithic. You may have been formed widely and deeply about fighting racism within your Catholic circles. Your parish may be active, and your pastor may be vocal.
But in countless conversations with Catholics, I have heard stories of lament.
Stories of Catholics of color ignored or insulted within their home parishes. Young Catholics discouraged by never seeing speakers, teachers or leaders like them — and deciding not to follow a calling into ministry. Theology students told to stay quiet about their experiences of racism and discrimination. Catholics whose presence in the pews at Sunday Mass was met with disgust by the people around them.
St. Paul wrote that “if (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26).
The body of Christ is suffering. We must do more.
We don’t have to stop doing what we have done, in urging Catholics to care about all that is evil and sinful in our society. But we have to do more to fight racism as a church. This truth is clear.
The work of faith formation begins in the home. I must do more as a parent: not just to name racism, but to teach my children to fight against it.
Through our conversations and prayers, the friends and visitors we welcome at home, the art on our walls and the books we read (to name a few examples), parents, grandparents and guardians have opportunities to teach this generation of Catholics about justice and mercy.
But I want bishops, priests, catechists and church leaders to do more, too.
Teach us how to pray about racism. How to speak out against prejudice and hatred in conversations with friends and neighbors. How to support Catholic organizations fighting systemic racism. How to change what is broken in our society, to honor the vision of liberty and justice for all.
I want more for our children. I want them to know the history of the Catholic Church. I want them to learn about Black saints. I want them to understand how sin deforms souls and systems. I want them to embrace the beauty God has created.
More than anything, I want our children to say that they know racism is evil — and they know how to fight it — because their church taught them.
Teach us, church. Help us to teach our children.