FALL RIVER, Mass. — In the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands four policemen in Minneapolis, Minn., and the aftermath, the Diocese of Fall River hosted an Interfaith Service for Peace and Justice on June 14 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., invited religious leaders from across the area of the Fall River Diocese to take part in the service.
The public, too, was invited, but only by pre-registering because of capacity restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In poignant and emotional presentations, Bishop da Cunha and others stressed the need for all to realize that racism is a very real scourge in this country and called for all to accept that fact, and strive to change hearts, beginning with themselves, and educate and encourage others to do the same.
Blacks across the country experience prejudices and being treated as subordinates in all walks of life, many on a daily basis. Non-minorities will never know what their Black brothers and sisters experience, but the message at the service was to listen, learn and act to eliminate racism in all forms.
The following is Bishop da Cunha’s message that day:
“If there is one word we heard again and again these past several days, that word is change. A call for change is still echoing in our heads. Some call for change by violent protest; others by peaceful protest; and still others by prayer and reflection.
“But we must remember that when we pray for change, we are committing ourselves to change. We are not just calling others to change, but this change must begin with ourselves.
“What is the change we are praying for? Change minds, hearts, attitude, behavior. Change individuals, society, policies, laws, the way we see each other, the way we treat each other, the way police enforce law and protect our citizens.
“A change of heart cannot occur without strengthening Spiritual convictions regarding respect for other races and other ethnic groups.
“As the Biblical scholar Father Raymond Brown said, ‘If no change occurs as a result of prayer, then one has not really prayed.’
“Our reaction to this moment ‘must not be an episodic response that seeks to calm the waters of racial turmoil and then return to normalcy. The only authentic moral response to this moment in our nation’s history is a sustained conversion of heart and soul to genuinely comprehend the overwhelming evil of racism in our society, and to refuse to rest until we have rooted it out’ (Bishop Robert McElroy).
“George Floyd’s daughter Gianna said, ‘Daddy changed the world.’ How we hope that it is true: that we are changed by this tragedy and that the world will be changed.
Racism is a sin and this sin must be eradicated from our midst. But in order to be eradicated from our midst, it must be removed from our minds and hearts.
“In their 1979 pastoral letter, ‘Brothers and Sisters to Us,’ the U.S. bishops said, ‘Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.’
“But racism still profoundly affects our culture, and it has no place in the Christian heart. This evil causes great harm to its victims, and it corrupts the souls of those who harbor racist or prejudicial thoughts.
“Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and is precious in His eyes according to the first chapter of Genesis. This truth is for us the bedrock and foundation of all human dignity. To violate it is an offence against God Himself and against the Sacredness of life.
“Racism takes peace away — We all long for the gift of peace. But we cannot have peace, for ourselves and our world, when racism is still lurking its head in our midst. If you want peace, work for justice. There cannot be peace without justice, and there cannot peace where there is racism. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
“Racism is not something of the past — it is very much here and now. Racism causes death and suffering. We have seen it in the cases of Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd.
“Some say they are not racist. Therefore they don’t have to worry about and do anything about racism. If you are not racist, that is a great thing, but it is not enough. We must be anti-racist and must work constantly until we eliminate racism.
“We must renew our commitment to making the dream of peace built on justice and racial equality a reality for all our brothers and sisters in our communities, and throughout this country.
“When we tolerate racism we are encouraging this dreadful evil to spread. We cannot stand by and do nothing when we see inhuman treatment of our brothers and sisters.
“‘It is not enough just to decry injustice, or even to pray and sympathize with those who suffer from an everyday experience of being treated as inferior or unworthy because of their racial or ethnic identities. This must be our constant work’ (Cardinal Joseph Tobin).
“My friends, indifference is not an option.
“Even though we are sympathetic to those who understandably are angry and outraged following the death of George Floyd, we cannot condone the use of violence, looting or destruction of property. It is not with violence that we will solve the problem of racism.
“‘The promotion of chaos and anarchy does not serve the cause of justice. You cannot solve the problem of victimization by victimizing others’ (Bishop Michael Sis).
“In his book, ‘Strength to Love,’ Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, ‘Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.’
“‘We ask [all people of good will] to fight the evil of racism by educating themselves, reflecting on their personal thoughts and actions, listening to the experience of those who have been affected by racism, and by developing and supporting programs that help repair the damages caused by racial discrimination’ (‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’ U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter).
“‘Certainly, we cannot accomplish this task alone. We call on everyone, especially all Christians and those of other faith traditions, to help repair the breach caused by racism, which damages the human family’ (‘Open Wide Our Hearts’).
“The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life.
“‘In the midst of this pandemic, turmoil, social unrest, where do we find peace? We must find it ‘in knowing that the presence of God surrounds us, especially in these days of sadness and loss, and He calls us to moral and Spiritual conversion, so that the soul of our nation can be renewed and our eyes might truly see the glory of the coming of the Lord once more into our midst’” (Bishop Robert McElroy).