One Church Many Cultures The Good News of Cultural Diversity Fall/Winter 2021
The Pain of Prejudice and Bigotry
Most Rev. Nelson J. Pérez, Archbishop of Philadelphia
Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Peace be with you! One of the many blessings of being a bishop is the opportunity to visit parishes, schools, and other ministries in our dioceses. Like all bishops, I enjoy being with the people I am called to serve. These moments are truly sacred encounters where I experience the presence of Christ in the people. Every time Jesus encountered someone in the Gospel, there was a change.
Whether it was the call of the disciples or the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, lives were changed because of sacred encounters. In the midst of the pandemics of COVID 19 and racism, we experienced great loss - loss of life, loss of jobs, loss of learning, and much more. Indeed, some relationships have been frayed and even broken.
Our bishops saw these moments of challenge as opportunities for pastoral care with renewed hope. We have issued statements, walked the streets, and gathered our people for dialogue, healing, and reconciliation. We know that we don’t address the divisions among us from the view of the world, but led by the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ.
In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I held a listening session with African American Catholics and learned once again the pain of broken relationships and racism that they experienced. Other members of the Body of Christ can identify with the pain of prejudice and bigotry as well.
It was this experience that led me to action, to form a Commission on Racial Healing. It is a diverse group that consists mostly of lay faithful. They represent various races and cultures, ages, and perspectives all with one purpose of helping us heal the sin of racism and see each other as sisters and brothers, children of our Heavenly Father. They are charged with the tasks to develop a plan of action to bring about sacred encounters. One concrete action the Commission is planning is to sponsor a concert of sacred music in our Cathedral with various choirs coming together to sing God's praises. However, what is unique about this concert is that there will be one choir that will learn music in different languages and from diverse cultures and sing together. Isn't that a taste of the Heavenly Choir!
In his encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes, “How wonderful would it be, even as we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters who orbit around us” (FT, 31). Sacred encounter is the challenge of our Holy Father, and indeed, the mandate of Christ. As we continue to work on the 2021-2024 USCCB Strategic Plan, Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Our Source of Healing and Hope, may each of us seek new ways to encounter each other as sisters and brothers, work for justice and be a source of healing and reconciliation. May Christ, the Good Shepherd, lead to a future full of hope.