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Catholic bishop to speak on 'Black Lives Matter'

St. Louis' Catholic Archdiocese held a "Mass for Peace and Justice" on August 20, 2014, shortly after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The Archdiocese's Peace and Justice Commission is continuing its work with a lecture on "Black Lives Matter."
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis' Catholic Archdiocese held a "Mass for Peace and Justice" on August 20, 2014, shortly after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The Archdiocese's Peace and Justice Commission is continuing its work with a lecture on "Black Lives Matter."

The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis is hoping to help people unpack the meaning of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and recruit more members to its Racial Equity task force during an event Monday night.

The day before the two-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, the Archdiocese is bringing in the Most Rev. Edward Braxton, Bishop of Belleville, to discuss his recent pastoral letter, “The Catholic Church and The Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited.”

The forum is set for 7 p.m. Momday at the Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive, Shrewsbury.

“This forum is happening to get a better understanding of what it means when we say, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and not merely to substitute it and say, ‘All Lives Matter,’ but what specifically is this particular movement about? Not to just be dismissive on either side, but to have a better understanding of it,” said the Rev. Arthur Cavitt.

Cavitt is executive director of event co-sponsor, St. Charles Lwanga Center, which serves as the Archdiocese’s African American ministry. He said it is important to open some people up “to the various views that are there, so you don’t just close the blinds on it, that it’s just a black thing, and it’s just an angry black thing.”

But conversations about social justice and racial inequities can be difficult to have in the Archdiocese’s “predominantly white community” where some parishes have little to no diversity, said Marie Kenyon, executive director of another event co-sponsor, the Archdiocese’s Peace and Justice Commission. She said though about 20 percent of St. Louisans are Catholic, only about two percent, or 15,000 people, are African American.

“But as Catholics these are issues we need to think about and work on,” she said. “The challenge there is making them see why it’s relevant to them and why is our faith calling us to do this and to think about these issues.”

An excerpt from Bishop Braxton's pastoral letter: “The teaching of Scripture and Jesus Himself make it clear that for a Christian, for a Catholic, and for the Catholic Church, all lives should matter. Many Americans believe this should be the end of the question. Obviously, if all lives matter, then Black lives matter! Yet, this seemingly obvious truth has not been a sufficient answer to those whose voices are raised in protest in the Black Lives Matter Movement. Why is that? Several supporters of the movement have cited George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ for the answer. They remind us that the mantra of the totalitarian world of the novel is ‘All animals are equal.’ But, eventually, the mantra is changed to, ‘All animals are equal. BUT, some animals are more equal than others.’”

Cavitt said the Catholic Church also hasn’t had a historically good record reaching out to African Americans. But he said the talk may help people see that “we really are in this struggle together.”

“We hear people from the Black Lives Matter movement now saying that, ‘Yeah, all lives matter. This particular emphasis that we want to bring out and amplify is about justice for black folks in the black community versus what happens when law enforcement does something untoward, or criminal even,’” he said.

Cavitt said he also hopes the event “solidifies people’s commitment to do something.”

That’s why at the event, people will also have a chance to be part of the archdiocese’s Racial Equity Task Force. This group will come up with recommendations to present to Archbishop Robert Carlson to “look in our own house to promote racial equity.”

“Racism is a sin, discrimination is a sin, and this is what we believe as Catholics, and we have to sort of check ourselves, ‘How are we being racist? How are we being discriminatory? And what can we do about it?’ And start to work on those issues,” Kenyon said.

So this event, she said, will help “to really start to get serious to look and see what we can do.”

Peace and Justice Commission, two years on

But Kenyon said it would be wrong to see this event as a “kick-off” to the Archdiocese’s efforts to address racial inequalities. She said the Peace and Justice Commission has been working on these issues since it was reformed by Archbishop Robert Carlson shortly after Michael Brown’s death, though it did take six months to figure out its first steps.

Among those was reviewing the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission. She said the Commission has also held panels, discussions and events, such as a year-long prayer series. Some area parishes shared in events with Metropolitan Congregations United, had Dr. Jason Purnell present his “For the Sake of All” study, or participated in “Witnessing Whiteness” programs.

But Kenyon knows there is much more to be done. “We’re just getting started. Our work is just beginning.”

Cavitt said asking whether the Catholic Church in St. Louis has done enough “is loaded.”

“Clearly there is not enough happening in the Church and society, even in our own individuals lives,” he said. “But it would be a mistake to dismiss particularly the Catholic Church and Archdiocese because we have not been in the forefront of media events that have happened.”

He said, instead, the Catholic Church has done what it always has: focusing on education as one of the largest school districts in the state, continuing its social services, and providing health care.

“A particular hallmark is Catholic social teaching,” he said. “We don’t hear enough of that as well. It’s another emphasis for the Peace and Justice Commission to be articulating that in terms of what it is that the Catholic Church has to do and say and has done historically about much.”

But Kenyon said it’s not just the responsibility of the Commission, the Lwanga Center or the other event co-sponsor, the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver, to work on the issues of racism and discrimination in the Church and in the community: “We all have to own it.”

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephlecci.