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A Call to Witness

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By Chris Sparks (Aug 21, 2017)
The country continues to be rocked by debate over the so-called "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville a week ago, a mis-named event that brought together, not the political right in this country, but the enemies of humanity that call themselves the neo-Nazis and the KKK. This rally met fierce and at times violent opposition from counter-protestors, culminating in the same sort of attack on a crowd with a car by one of the attendees of the rally that we've seen committed again and again by extremists in Europe.

After Charlottesville, what can Catholics do? What should Catholics do?

Our bishops have spoken and continue to speak clearly.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, released a statement the day after the attack, saying:

As we learn more about the horrible events of yesterday, our prayer turns today, on the Lord's Day, to the people of Charlottesville who offered a counter example to the hate marching in the streets. Let us unite ourselves in the spirit of hope offered by the clergy, people of faith, and all people of good will who peacefully defended their city and country.

We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love's victory over every form of evil is assured. At Mass, let us offer a special prayer of gratitude for the brave souls who sought to protect us from the violent ideology displayed yesterday. Let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.


Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, wrote in his diocesan newspaper:

Racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism are absolutely opposed to the truth of the Gospel. Racism is a dangerous evil: a lie sown by Satan, which seduces, and confuses, and ensnares. The Evil One seeks to divide us from one another and from the Lord, by sowing and exploiting prejudice, stereotypes, and fear.

Regrettably, the white supremacists were not the only ones sowing violence in Charlottesville. A small number of the counter-protestors, but not most of them, were violent, anarchist members of the "antifa" movement, who opposed their racist counterparts with violence.

We should all be disgusted by the racism of white supremacists. But hatred, expressed in anarchic violence, is the wrong response to injustice. Hatred begets hatred. Violence begets violence. Christians know that evil cannot overcome evil. Only grace can conquer evil.

This weekend, Archbishop Chaput wrote that "Charlottesville matters. It's a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country... If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite."

Today, our call is to oppose the evil of racism, and the violence begotten by hatred, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ—with the love of the One who came to redeem every human heart. Jesus Christ can free the captives of racism, and Jesus Christ can heal racism's victims. Our job is to proclaim the truth, mercy, and freedom of life in Jesus Christ. We should not be na├»ve about how difficult that job really is.

It should be absolutely clear to us that without a massive spiritual renewal in our country, violence, hatred, and chaos will continue unabated. In fact, each one of us must guard our hearts, to ensure that Satan does not sow within us the lie of racism, or use our disgust for racism to make us hateful, vengeful, or violent.

The only Christian response to the evil that unfolded in Charlottesville is to redouble our prayers for our nation, and to redouble our efforts to build a civilization of love. ...

Now more than ever is the Divine Mercy message and devotion an urgent necessity. Now more than ever do we need to be praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Rosary for the conversion of every heart, for peace in the world, for the transformation of racists into people inflamed by the Holy Spirit to love as Jesus loves, without consideration of race. Now is the time to venerate the Divine Mercy Image, asking Jesus for the overthrow of the powers and principalities of this present darkness. Now is the time to spread the Good News of Christ's love and the coming of the Kingdom of God to all the world, especially the victims of racism as well as the perpetrators. Now is the time to be Jesus to everyone, to pray for the racist enemies of the Church and of the whole human race, that they may be converted and saved from their damnable racist ideology.

Yes, we can and must pray. But we can also take a stand for the culture of life, for the dignity of every human being, and oppose racism publicly, with the same level of commitment and organization that we bring to bear in the broader pro-life cause.

We can become the William Wilberforces, Dietrich von Hildebrands, St. Katharine Drexels, and Servant of God Dorothy Days of this generation — we can bear a consistent moral witness to the dignity of human beings, the sacred nature of human life, the love of God for all mankind, and how wrong it is to take innocent human life. For years, the pro-life movement has (rightly) pointed to the connections between Planned Parenthood and the eugenics movement, a movement that spawned the Nazis at least in part; we have talked about how delighted the Klan would be by the slaughter of unborn minority children through the abortion industry. We have acknowledged implicitly and explicitly that Nazism and the KKK are antithetical to the cause of life. We know that we oppose racism in all its forms.

But the victims of racism need to know that we're here, and that we stand up for them. The neo-Nazis and the KKK need to feel the full weight of the condemnation of the churches and ecclesial communities for their ideology. We need to deploy the full intellectual, spiritual, and moral heritage that we've received from our Catholic forebears who opposed the Nazis, rescued Jewish and other innocent lives, and were the targets of the virulent hatred of the KKK.

Further, there is no reason why the counter-protestors at Nazi, KKK, and racist events should ever feel the need to be violent or only come from the fringes of the nation's political life — why not make sure the majority of the counter-protests consist of members of the churches, of the pro-life organizations, of Knights of Columbus and Marian Helpers, of veterans and mothers, of the whole Body of Christ? Christian leadership of the abolitionist movement helped ensure that the feared "race war" never took place; rather, emancipation came peacefully in England and through a civil war in America. Christian leadership of the civil rights movement, especially through the extraordinary courage of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, helped this country to a far more peaceful transition out of Jim Crow than could have been. Where Christians take up the full weight of our responsibilities to help conform human society to the principles of peace, justice, and the dignity of all human life, there a society is blessed.

We also need to see an end to these reckless, violent protests rocking American cities. If the Body of Christ takes the lead in peacefully, thoroughly, and consistently opposing racism in all its forms, making that a part of our public moral witness, there will be no incentive to violent demonstrations for many of those currently taking part. We would deprive these violent anarchists of the motive that draws them out to riot. We'd achieve both peace and stand by our brothers and sisters in Christ who are terrorized every time the neo-Nazis and the KKK go on the march. We'd be true to the teaching of the popes since Pius XI, and true to our pro-life principles.

So let us ask the intercession of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, and St. Joseph, Protector and Patron of the Universal Church, for unity and peace among the races in our nation and across the world. Let us commit to including visible, peaceful opposition to racism in our pro-life activism, arising from the legacy of great saints like Katherine Drexel, Mother Teresa, Maximilian Kolbe, Martin de Porres, and Peter Claver. Let our love and defense of our neighbors, whatever race they may be, help to alleviate the tensions and fears currently causing so much strife in our nation, and our model of peaceful counter-protest show the better path, the Christian path, in the footsteps of Servant of God Dorothy Day.

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