by Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN

As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the modern Civil Rights era, Pax Christi USA, (PCUSA), the national Catholic peace and justice movement, continues its commitment to confront the evil of racism and all forms of oppression, as we witness to the Gospel call of nonviolence and peace with justice.  Traditionally, Pax Christi USA didn’t reach out to communities of color. It was not until people of color joined the National Council along with members that an intentional anti-racism initiative began to take shape. This ongoing commitment began in a process back in 1999 when Pax Christi USA, with its majority membership of white Catholics, embarked on a 20-year initiative by: 1) creating a document   “Brothers and Sisters All” and 2) creating the Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team, PCART, as an integral section of PCUSA. By striving to create a world that reflects the peace of Christ, intentionally becoming an anti-racist, multi-cultural, Catholic, non-violent, peace and justice movement, PCUSA strives to become part of “the Beloved Community,” envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr..

PCUSA is committed to this work of making strong, honest, caring relationships – both personal and institutional – across racial lines, in order that together, with the whole body of Christ, we can transform structures and cultures of violence and domination.  We are further committed to and have made progress in transforming our own organizational structures, policies, practices, and forms of decision-making to include the participation of people of color.  To assist the PCUSA members in this effort, the trained Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team educates the Pax Christi membership on embracing an anti-racist perspective in working on our four initiatives.

This past year Pax Christi Staff has promoted interracial dialogues between Catholic communities of color and PCUSA groups. This year workshops entitled, “We Grow Together,” were held in major cities across the United States: St. Louis, Miami, Los Angeles, to name a few.  We learned that people are eager to enter into dialogue with each other to find solutions to common issues of injustice in their areas.   Our next steps are to have follow-up assessment done by the PCUSA Regional Leaders to evaluate the actions, which these Catholic groups were able to accomplish. It is reasonable to believe that this approach could be a model for other Catholic parishes and groups.

Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. challenged us to become “extremists for love, justice and peace.”

This takes steadfastness and persistent courage. What will Pax Christi USA look like as we continue to pursue this anti-racist identity?  What will it take for Catholics to truly make dismantling racism a central focus of bringing about God’s reign of peace and justice for the next 50 years (and beyond)?  God promises to be with us, and we stand on the shoulders of many sisters and brothers who have gone before us and who sacrificed their lives at great cost.

The choice is ours.

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Sr. Patricia Chappell.Sr. Patricia Chappell is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.  She is a former president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference and currently Co-Chairs the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur-USA, National Anti-Racism Team.  In November 2011, Sr. Patty became the first African-American Executive Director of Pax Christi USA