Long before overnight protests became a common occurrence in the streets of Rochester, local Catholics recognized the need to address racism and racial injustice.
In fact, leaders at the clustered parishes of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anne designated “Racism in Rochester” as the theme of the Rochester cluster’s Lenten presentation series last spring.
“Our society is polarized and very divided, and we as people of faith and especially Catholics have something positive to offer to try to bring people together,” explained Father Gary Tyman, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anne. “Our Catholic faith leads us to try to work to help bring our society more together, and to work to bridge the division.”
The nation’s Catholic bishops called the faithful to do just that in their 2018 pastoral letter against racism, titled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call To Love.” The Diocese of Rochester’s own Diocesan Public Policy Committee renewed that call in August 2020, when it released a packet of resources intended to help parish, school and campus communities “pray, learn and act together to transform our hearts, our policies and our country,” according to Father Daniel Condon, chairperson of the committee.
“Our faith calls us to speak out against racism and to work to transform structures that disregard the equal dignity of all human persons,” Father Condon wrote in an August 2020 letter to pastoral leaders.
Several parishes currently are offering programs intended to help parishioners learn about racism and work to end it. This kind of education coupled with action had been the goal of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anne’s Racism in Rochester series last spring, Father Tyman told the Catholic Courier. Before the series was cut short in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anne parishioners learned about the history of segregation in Rochester, specifically in terms of housing policies, and how Rochester stacks up with other cities in the state and nation in terms of community well-being.
In October, the cluster will again focus on racism as the series picks up where it left off, although the remaining three presentations will be offered online rather than in the parish hall. On Oct. 7, the Rev. Judy Davis of Community of the Savior will discuss the challenges of building a diverse community of faith. On Oct. 14, Sister of St. Joseph Christine Wagner, founder and executive director of St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, will identify hopeful actions taking place in the community and identify what still needs to be done. And on Oct. 21, Kevin Beckford, senior director of staff diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Rochester, will reflect on being black in the corporate world. Each session will begin at 8 p.m. via Zoom and include time for questions and answers.
Racism also is the focus of a weekly series of conversations at St. Rita Parish in Webster, where Father Tim Niven has asked parishioners to read Open Wide Our Hearts and join in the weekly discussions. These conversations began Sept. 30 and will take place each Wednesday evening until Oct. 21. Those interested may participate in person at St. Rita Church or online via Facebook or Zoom.
The U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter provides an excellent starting point from which individuals can begin to educate themselves about racism, Father Niven wrote in a Sept. 17 letter to parishioners.
“Our country is not on the same page when it comes to racism. We can’t agree on how it is defined; our individual participation in racism; if, and in what ways, our systems are racist; and what to do about any of this,” Father Niven wrote. “St. Rita’s can’t get the whole country on the same page, but we can come together and get ourselves on the same page.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To sign up for Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anne’s Racism in Rochester series, contact Konnie Collins at email@example.com. To learn more about St. Rita’s conversation series, visit www.stritawebster.org.