The message of a recent Sheen Center Virtual Stage was that there is a dire need for society to begin a dialogue that activates change and demonstrates “that, without question, Black Lives Do Matter and that recognition of their dignity is foundational to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
As with archdiocesan events held during Black History Month in February, the April 23 virtual stage had the goal of “shining a spotlight on the historical context of the lived experiences” of many African-Americans in the Church.
The discussion was titled “Black Lives Matter: Question or Statement?” The three panelists and the moderator were clear in their agreement that it is a statement, and that for far too long there have been people in society who seem to see it as a question.
The panelists and moderator considered the virtual event “a timely and consequential discussion,” given the George Floyd killing, other homicides by police and ongoing systemic racism.
The good news, all agreed, is the sign of hope in seeing protesters of all races, cultures and ages active in Black Lives Matter marches last year and this year.
Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Joseph Cheri III, O.F.M., of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was the special guest panelist. He shared his thoughts on racism as a black man and a bishop of the Church—and on what the Church is doing, can do and must do to continue to address the issue.
“I think we are both at a crossroads and an impasse,” Bishop Cheri said during the evening discussion, asserting that people in society and the Church “don’t want to confess the sinfulness of it all...We’re facing it on the job, we’re facing it in the Church; we’re facing it on the playground, we’re facing it everywhere we go. It’s just overwhelming…You have to continue to just stay true and sincere about who you are and whose you are.”
Progress is visible, such as the multicultural protests and Church leaders denouncing racism, he said, but there also has been too much silence. The discussion needs to continue and grow, the bishop and the others agreed, no matter how uncomfortable some may feel. “Racism is alive and well in this country and in this Church, and in our lives,” Bishop Cheri said. “His life (George Floyd’s) was publicly aborted.”
The live-streamed conversation was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry and The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, as well as the OBM/Divine 9 Leadership Committee, which is composed of Catholic members of the nine historic Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities.
The other two panelists were Gloria Purvis, a nationally known Catholic speaker and media host, and attorney Colin Bereth of the Catholic Anti-Racism Project (CARP), which is supported by Catholic Charities of New York and St. Charles Borromeo parish in Harlem.
Liz Faublas, award-winning journalist and author, was the moderator.
Brother Tyrone Davis, C.F.C., director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry, gave closing remarks, thanking discussion participants and all who made the event possible. He talked about the importance of “the quest for justice” and the need “for serious change.”
“These are serious issues, and serious issues require serious conversations,” he said.
Brother Davis noted that the cause needs serious people “who are not afraid to proclaim, as a statement: Black Lives Matter...May the Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace as a result of your work for justice.”
Ms. Purvis spoke about Black Lives Matter as it relates to adverse experiences of African-Americans within the Church, including her own experiences as a media host and Church member. She said Church leaders should make more of an effort to achieve “cultural competence” among the faithful in African-American communities. She noted Black Lives Matter has become “a global movement,” and she asserted her belief in the dignity of the human person starting from conception.
Bereth discussed CARP’s recent efforts to bring more attention to racial injustice. He spoke about the need to address both “structural and interpersonal racism.”
The panelists and moderator also discussed a special grace that African-Americans evidently have, and a strong faith—given their perseverance despite historical sufferings that have stemmed from a sin called racism.