A Reflection on Faith and Racial Equity

Mar 4, 2021

The parish’s Social Justice Committee has recently been engaged in a series of discussions and study concerning Faith and Racial Justice.  Relatedly, this past fall, I had read “Walking with The Wind,” a memoir by the well-known Congressman and social justice leader, John Lewis. While a highly engaging and informative primer on the civil rights movement in its own right, it also struck me as a moving and inspiring example of yet another person’s life whose committed, courageous, tireless, brutally challenged life’s work for justice, advocacy, and/or service for the marginalized in society was grounded in and nourished by their religious faith and Gospel values. As Lewis states in the book of his involvement, “It was an extension of my religious convictions, my faith.”

Such has been so for many even in my lifetime as Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and, more recently, Bryan Stevenson along with others now and throughout history. The intertwining of faith, spirituality, and efforts for justice is a calling Pope Francis has also reminded us of and emphasized in his recent encyclicals “Laudato Si” and “Tutti Fratelli.”

John Lewis’s biography from a poor cotton farmer in Alabama to a leader in the civil rights movement reflects a faith-filled vision that endured violent opposition yet remained principled in sustained peaceful action. The events retold in the book were ones I intermittently knew of when they were happening. I did not however appreciate the continuity and historical significance of those struggles and events which the book meaningfully enlightened.

John Lewis died just last year. He understood that the vision of equality he worked for would not be fully realized in his lifetime, yet it did not compromise the efforts needed going forward. At my age now, I admit to being at a stage in life wherein my inclination is to just feel a shared concern regarding the environment, racial and economic inequality, displaced migrants, etc. but to leave any discussion of and attempts to address them to younger generations. An initiative to stay involved even in some small way is enhanced by people like John Lewis and others whose efforts for envisioned changes continued on with an understanding of the fulfilling hope for those changes resting in the future.

Participating in and with the parish’s Social Justice Committee offers one such opportunity to engage in these matters as related to Catholic Social Teaching. In addition to racial justice concerns, the Committee has working connections with NY Metro Global Catholic Climate Movement, Manhattan Together, and other service institutions and efforts.  As it is a prayerful as well as active enterprise, the Committee for me is also a way, as Teilhard de Chardin stated in his Prayer of the Aging Jesuit, to be “contributing to the world with optimism adding my prayers to the courage, fervor, and efforts of those who take their turn at the helm.”

– Nicholas Naccari, Ignatian Social Justice Ministry