Bishop urges people to listen, learn, pray, act to foster racial harmony

IMAGE: CNS photo/Theresa Orozco, St. Louis Review)

By Joseph Kenny

ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Bishop Edward
K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, said his background is as an academic, with
writings on theological and pastoral topics, and not as an expert in a field
related to racial matters.

But he has become an important
voice in the Catholic Church on the topic, thanks to his writings.

His pastoral letter “The Racial
Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015” was
followed early this year by “The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter
Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited.”

The second pastoral was a basis
for his address to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and a Lenten
reflection at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as the Aug. 8
talk sponsored by the St. Charles Lwanga Center, the Knights and Ladies of
Peter Claver, and the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St.

After the well-researched yet
plain-spoken talk in St. Louis, several people — black and white, young and
old — lined up before a microphone to add personal experiences of a racial
divide or ask questions about how they can play a role in easing it. Applause
and reactions from the attendees showed they were engaged with the topic and
encouraged by the talk.

Several times Bishop Braxton
asked people to listen, learn, think, pray and act on the issue of racial
equality and harmony.

“Listen to people who think
differently than you. Tell your children and your children’s children. Finally,
act. Everyone can do something,” he said, recalling Blessed Teresa of Kolkata,
who told him, “I must do what I can,” when he asked her why she continued her
work with the poor and dying.

He hopes to raise consciousness
and encourage a civil discourse about the powerful challenges.

The Black Lives Matter movement
that sprang from the shooting deaths of black men in confrontations with police
and an All Lives Matter response are compatible, Bishop Braxton said. However,
“it is necessary to acknowledge the legitimacy of the particular concern for
the lives of people of color. This is not something Americans recognize,” he

He gave the example of being in
a secure home with plenty to eat and facing a family in dire need of food and

In the case of the second
family,at case, “it is their lives and not mine that are in peril. If you
simply say ‘All Lives Matter,’ there is a danger of falsely implying that every
group of Americans is facing the same degree of peril, which then makes it
possible to ignore or deny pressing issues like the frequent violent and fatal
treatment of African-Americans in the face of minor or suspected misconducts.
They seem to be tried, convicted and sentenced to death on the streets.”

Bishop Braxton, a former
auxiliary bishop in St. Louis, said police officers have a very difficult and
dangerous job. They deserve respect and gratitude, and their lives matter, he

At the same time, he said, “the
point of Black Lives Matter is that many in the African-American community face
existential threats that must not be ignored.”

Bishop Braxton encouraged
audience members who spoke during the comment period after his talk. He urged a
high school student from a nearly all-white suburban parish to visit parishes
with diversity, serve on a justice and peace committee and most of all to
express discomfort when others are belittling someone who is different from
themselves. He told another person not to wait for her priest to gather people
together because through her baptism she is the Church and is called to share
the Gospel. He also urged support for schools that serve children in
economically disadvantaged communities.

Bishop Braxton cited
the unique peril that makes the Black Lives Matter movement relevant. But it
should not be silent about the significant number of young African-American
males who die at the hands of other African-Americans or alarmingly high number
of abortions, he said. He also called for a repudiation of any form of violence
against white people, especially police officers.

A recognition must be made that
the lives of other vulnerable, marginalized groups in the country also matter,
he added.

He praised Elie Wiesel, a Nobel
laureate who was a survivor of Nazi death camps, for bringing the word’s
attention to the horrors of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust as well as
being a champion for the human rights of oppressed people around the world.

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Editor’s Note: Bishop Braxton’s 2015
and 2016 pastorals on the racial divide in the U.S. can be found on the website
of the Diocese of Belleville,

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Kenny is a reporter at the St.
Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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