Catholic history in Mississippi goes digital

By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – A little-known treasure hides in a vault in the Chancery building in Jackson. This treasure chronicles more than 200 years of Mississippi and regional history and is housed in a 10′ x 20′ room on the ground floor. In this small space, Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow, who served the diocese from 1924 to 1966, created a diocesan archive filing system still in use today. The good news, this little-known history is about to get new life and new exposure, thanks to a grant from the Mississippi Digital Library (MDL) and the work of the diocesan chancellor’s staff.
It often is said Catholic Social Teaching is the church’s best kept secret, but preserving and protecting records and history is another one. Canon Law requires the church to keep all sacramental records of its members, but it also requires a historical archive to be kept so that the events in the life of the local church can be chronicled for future generations.
The diocesan archives gives a unique accounting of history through the growth and spread of the Catholic faith within the boundaries of the 20th state of the Union. Papers and records in the archives date back to Spanish Colonial times in 1796 Natchez and travel forward through the establishment of the diocese in 1837, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, world wars, great floods, economic depression, the Civil Rights movement up to the present day. Items from these archives, gathered and maintained by Bishop Gerow and his successors are now continually updated by the diocesan chancellor’s office.
Throughout his 42 years as bishop, he meticulously indexed and journaled all the previous bishops’ papers dating back to the beginnings of the diocese in 1837 and beyond, making sure the legacy and expansion of the church in its developmental times would be properly documented.
Bishop Gerow also chronicled the growth of the church in the state by taking a camera along on his journeys around the diocese for dedications, ordinations and confirmations. In his tenure he amassed more than 1,700 photos depicting church life in those five decades of his episcopacy. Many of his photos are of structures that no longer exist, especially in the coastal counties. Although now the Diocese of Biloxi, these areas were a part of the diocese during Bishop Gerow’s time.
These photos capture not only church history but, on a greater scale, the story of Mississippi and the surrounding region. The diocesan archives contains papers on the development of Mississippi’s journey to statehood from the earliest times.
For this reason the Mississippi Digital Library (MDL) awarded the diocese its 2016 Cultural Heritage Digitization Award (CHDA).The MDL is hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi.
According to its website, the MDL provides an online space to search and explore the wealth of materials available in Mississippi. Its board includes digital preservationists, archivists, librarians and experts in the field of history from around the state, including the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, The University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University and Delta State University.
The award, given annually, offers 80 hours of scanning of historic documents and photos by MDL staff and partners. Lisa Jones, MDL director, described how excited they were to see the Bishop R.O. Gerow collection of photos and documents when she came for the onsite visit during the application process. Staff and board members were impressed with the breadth of material reflecting a unique angle of the history of Mississippi through the lens of a Catholic bishop.
During the week of Aug. 8 – 12, Nicole Lawrence, coordinator of MDL, and Susan Ivey, digital initiatives librarian, from Ole Miss, spent eight  hours each day scanning 614 items from Bishop Gerow’s collection. Notable items included several papal Bulls, including the decree establishing the original diocese of Natchez by Pope Gregory XVI. Sue Anne Booth and Donna King, staff of the chancellor’s office, worked tirelessly to get all the photos and documents in order and wrote metadata for each object.
Each day, members of MDL’s board offered training sessions for chancery staff on topics including: archiving digitally born records such as emails, texts and recent photos; best practices for digitization, digital storage space on servers and using cloud-based services and prioritizing documents and collections in archives for digitization.
As Chancellor for the diocese, it is my responsibility to maintain on behalf of the bishop all diocesan records as well as the historical part of the archives. The opportunity to partner with the MDL gives our collection better exposure to researchers, teachers and students who are studying the growth and changes in state history. It is an opportunity to educate more people on the Catholic faith and its contributions to the overall community, state and region over the past 200-plus years.
In the coming months, the scanned items will be housed on the MDL website in a collection named for Bishop Gerow. More items will be added as time goes on. So stay tuned to and Mississippi Catholic for updates.
(Mary Woodward is the Diocesan Chancellor.)

Texas Catholic high school community cheers swimmer to Olympic bronze

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen
FORT WORTH, Texas (CNS) – Matthew Coffer, a 2007 Nolan Catholic High School graduate, said it best in a comment posted to the school’s alumni page: “It was a great night to be a Viking!”
He was referring to the pride and excitement when Nolan alumna Katie Meili won the bronze medal in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Colleyville native, who graduated from Nolan Catholic in 2009, posted a time of 1:05.69. Another American, Lilly King, beat out a Russian competitor to win the gold.
Meili is the first Olympic athlete in the school’s 55-year history.
“I’m just so happy,” a beaming Meili told reporters moments after her race.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve had so much support along the way,” Meili said. “This medal belongs to so many more people than just me, and I’m really proud of them.”
The 25-year-old’s former swim teammates at Nolan Catholic gathered for a watch party in the school’s auditorium Aug. 8. They were joined by current students, faculty members, and friends of the Meili family, who had watched the athlete’s swimming prowess blossom, first at Columbia University, where she clinched a 2013 Division I NCAA bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke, and later at the invitation-only SwimMAC elite team in Charlotte, N.C.
Sports analysts said Meili was a long shot for an Olympic medal, but that’s not how the Nolan community felt. Current and former Nolan students wore blue T-shirts inscribed with the words, “All Viking for Meili” as they watched the 2016 Olympian compete.
“Everybody at the watch party knew it was going to happen,” said Nolan Catholic President Erin Vader. “If there is power in prayer and positive thinking, the people here got her through it.”
During the race, no one sat down.
“The sound was deafening. People were laughing and crying,” Vader said, describing the moment when TV graphics announced Meili’s bronze-medal finish. “It was thrilling.”
Stephen Montes, a Nolan classmate and friend of Meili, remembered her as “super supportive” of teammates when she swam the breaststroke and 200-meter individual medley in high school.
“Her practices were always intense,” he recalled. “She was a great teammate — humble and down to earth. Regardless of how tonight turned out, we would be proud of Katie.”
Nolan teammate Becky Russell has kept up with Meili’s competitive swimming through social media forums.
“She would give regular updates when she was swimming at Columbia and MAC Elite,” Russell said. “I’ve watched her progress to international meets and get faster and faster. It’s wonderful that she captured the swimming world’s attention.”
Russell applauded Meili’s decision to keep swimming after graduating from Columbia.
“She was never an Olympic shoo-in but at the same time, it was a very real dream,” she said.
“Katie winning this medal makes our other athletes feel like the Olympics are possible and that’s amazing,” Vader says. “It gives them a new goal.”
(Kurkowski-Gillen is a reporter for North Texas Catholic, online newsmagazine of the Diocese of Fort Worth.)


MADISON  – St. Joseph School journalism students hit the airwaves Friday, Aug. 12, when Jackson’s Catholic radio station began carrying their live, weekly coverage of Bruin football. The award-winning Bruin Sports Radio, staffed and managed by high school journalism students, will broadcast all home-and-away varsity football games live Friday nights on WJXC-LP FM 107.9. Bruin Sports Radio also will be available online through TuneIn Radio.
“Students call every game, offer expert analysis and do an entertaining job in the only program of its kind in the Jackson area,” principal Douglas Jones said. “The live broadcasts are a great way to showcase the talented students in our award-winning journalism program.”
Airtime for all football games on Bruin Sports Radio is 6:45 p.m. every Friday with the coach’s pre-game show; kick off follows 15 minutes later. Each broadcast includes a live halftime show and a post-game analysis show.
Bruin Sports Radio is part of the school’s journalism program. Besides Bruin Sports Radio, high school journalists also publish a newspaper, The Bear Facts; publish a school yearbook, The Shield; and produce a weekly newscast available on YouTube, Bruin News Now.
The Mississippi Scholastic Press Association named Bruin Sports Radio in April 2016 the state’s top student-produced streaming program. The MSPA named the coach’s pre-game show the state’s best student-produced pod cast.
The radio broadcast team includes junior Michael Corkern III, junior Nick Zouboukos, and freshman John Baladi, who will share responsibilities for play-by-play and on-air expert analysis. Others on the broadcast team are senior Matthew Hendley and freshman Will Turner, who will produce and host the coach’s pre-game show and live halftime show.
“Our students do an amazing job every week,” Jones said. “By producing a live, weekly radio show, they gain valuable, real-world experience they could not receive anywhere else and they develop skills and talent that will help them throughout the rest of their lives.”

Christ the King senior wins regional competition

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Parris Watts was selected as the first place Region V Winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Essay Competition, sponsored by the National Bar Association and Met Life. On July 21, she competed in the national competition in St. Louis, during the association’s convention. Watts, a senior, is a member of Jackson Christ the King Parish and vice Grand Lady for the Junior Daughters of the Knights of Peter Claver court 199.
The competition is “designed to motivate high school students to excel in education. The competition encourages students to express their views on a preselected topic and focuses on the ability of the students to communicate orally and in writing. The contest is also designed to give young people experience in public speaking and reviewing legal documents,” according to the bar association website.
For the essay, Watts had to address this issue: “The Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman. Zimmerman was acquitted. Many have criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for focusing on specific injustices done to African Americans stating there should be an All Lives Matter movement. If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive, would he argue that Blacks should focus on the All Lives Matter movement to focus more globally and generally on all lives or would he support the Black Lives Matter movement to focus more on black lives?”
Students were given some basic background materials, but also encouraged to do their own research.
“I argued that he would chose all lives matter because he was fighting for equality for everyone no matter what their race, class, color or situation,” said Watts. Her faith played a role in her arguments. “I was researching how Dr. King based his ideas on the idea of the beloved community. My faith has taught me that Jesus loves everyone equally,” she explained.
While she did not win first at the national level, she was recognized as the top entrant from the region comprised of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Watts hopes to become an attorney herself. She is active in softball, soccer, beta club and student council.
The National Bar Association was founded in 1925 and is the nation’s oldest and largest national network of predominantly African-American attorneys and judges.

Little Sisters provincial accepts highest award from Knights of Columbus

By Michael Swan
TORONTO (CNS) – The Little Sisters who fought the big system heard the cheers, held back tears and accepted the Gaudium et Spes Award from the Knights of Columbus at the Knights’ annual gala “States Dinner” in Toronto. A delegation of Mississippi Knights attended the convention, accepting awards and gathering information on behalf of Knights across the Magnolia State.
The Knights of Columbus in the United States provided $1 million to fund the exhaustive legal battle between the Little Sisters and the Health and Human Services mandate contained in rules for the 2011 Affordable Care Act.
“With a kind yet intrepid spirit, (the Little Sisters of the Poor) opposed government regulations that sought to force them to act against their consciences so that they may continue to carry out their longstanding service to the poor,” said the award citation.
The Little Sisters are the first religious order to receive the Gaudium et Spes Award, the highest honor bestowed only occasionally by the Knights. It was first given to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in 1992. Other honorees include L’Arche founder Jean Vanier in 2005, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz in 2010 and Chicago Cardinal Francis George in 2015.
The award to the sisters fits into a religious freedom theme the Knights of Columbus are promoting at their 134th Supreme Convention in Toronto. The Knights have also brought bishops from Iraq and Syria to participate. The Knights of Columbus played a significant lobbying role in persuading the U.S. Congress to declare massacres of Christians by the Islamic State group “genocide.”
Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters’ Baltimore province said the order did not go looking for a high-profile fight against Washington regulators.
“We would never have chosen to become the public face of resistance to the HHS mandate,” she said.
In 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies providing insurance for prescription drugs to their employees but excluding birth control were violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act. After the contraceptive mandate was included in the Affordable Care Act, the Little Sisters of the Poor argued in multiple courts that it violated their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion by forcing them to indirectly pay for forms of contraception that violate Catholic teaching. Most courts ruled the burden on the Little Sisters’ religious freedom rights was not substantial.
The Supreme Court found that the lower courts should have sought a compromise which would allow the order of Catholic sisters a way out of paying for contraception.
This year the Knights are celebrating $175 million raised worldwide for worthwhile causes and more than 73.5 million hours of volunteering. Their 2015 global fundraising was $1.5 million higher than in 2014. Last year was the 17th year in a row that the Knights set records for both hours of service and dollars raised.
The convention has attracted Knights from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Poland, Mexico, Mindanao, Guam, the Dominican Republic and all parts of the United States.
(Swan is associate editor of The Catholic Register, Toronto-based Canadian Catholic weekly.)

Art show feature works by St. Catherine’s Village residents

JACKSON – Art created by residents at St. Catherine’s Village is on display at the Mississippi Museum of Art now through Sept. 4. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Paintings were created as part of The Perfect Palette Art Group at St. Catherine’s Village and include submissions in oils, pastels, graphite, and acrylics. Led by Boo Richards, the program includes beginners all the way through virtuosos.
“We are thrilled to have works of art from our residents on display at the museum,” said Mary Margaret Judy, executive director at St. Catherine’s Village, Mississippi’s preeminent continuing life care community. “It gives our group members – and their families – the opportunity to celebrate their artistic achievements.”
The Perfect Palette Art Group is the second in the Mississippi Museum of Art’s Art in Us All: Community Exhibition Series. The exhibition program invites nonprofit organizations in Mississippi to showcase art created by their constituents. It is intended to cultivate creativity in the community for people of all ages and backgrounds while deepening the relationship between the museum and its visitors.
Through this series, the museum develops partnerships with Mississippi nonprofits that incorporate visual art into their social service work. The Perfect Palette Art Group was selected because it is the manifestation of art being used to lift the spirits and challenge the minds of an often underserved population – in this case, seniors.
“The beauty of this art group is the manner in which it serves to renew, resurrect or awaken someone’s potential, from fostering the enjoyment of an accomplished artist who had put the brushes aside to seeing the utter joy of a new artist upon producing that first work of art that makes the heart smile,” said Judy. “The results are many beautiful compositions of art, friendship, holistic wellness, and creativity.”
The Perfect Palette Art Group is one of many enriching activities in which those living at St. Catherine’s Village can participate. The continuing care retirement community encourages residents to stay engaged, energetic and excited, and has an activity director to coordinate a variety of clubs, groups and events.
“Our philosophy is to make available every tool to enhance holistic health, healing and wellness. The creative arts is one such program,” said Judy. “Its focus is on living life to the fullest and maximizing one’s total potential: physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, and educationally.”
Located on 160 acres in Madison, St. Catherine’s Village is a life care community offering the right care at the right time through independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. For more information, call (601) 856-0123 or log onto
To view the approximately 40 works of art from St. Catherine’s Village residents, visit the Mississippi Museum of Art at 380 South Lamar Street in Jackson. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (Closed Monday.) Find more information at

Schools to embrace family theme

Forming our future
By Catherine Cook
Welcome to the new school year! In January 2017, the Diocese of Jackson will mark 170 years of Catholic education in the state of Mississippi. It is worth noting that Bishop John Joseph Chanche initiated education immediately upon his appointment as the first bishop of the diocese in 1841, and established the first school six years later. He barely had any priests or even church buildings, but he knew offering Catholic education was critical to growing the church in his care.
Today the importance of Catholic education continues with schools and early learning centers operating within each of the six deaneries of our diocese.
Each year the Office of Catholic Education creates a unifying theme to focus our schools and centers on specific elements that connect us the mission of our church and to what Pope Francis has called us to consider. Recent themes have been based on the Joy of the Gospel and the Year of Mercy.
The 2016-2017 school year theme is FAMILY:
The theme is both a continuation of the Year of Mercy and a response to the Pope’s recent Apostolic Exhortation on “Love in the Family,” Amoris Laetitia. In chapter 7, Pope Francis focuses on education of children. He writes about ethical formation, discipline, family life, faith formation of children and the importance of age appropriate sex education.
His exhortation addresses education within the family. The role of Catholic schools is to support family life by providing a strong academic program infused with the faith formation – a formation and education that promotes mercy, integrity and love.
This theme calls us in Catholic education to renew our commitment to be “partners” with parents in this important enterprise – the education and formation of children and youth. This theme highlights the undeniably important role that families play in the life of our Catholic church, and consequently Catholic education. We must work together to prepare our children and youth for the world in which they will live and lead.
As a school system, we continuously look at ways to improve and strengthen our presence in the diocese and the community as a whole. As this school term opens the schools and centers within our diocese are collectively reporting a slight increase in enrollment.
However, some of our schools are experiencing falling enrollments so we have to look at how we can strengthen those communities. There are multiple contributing factors to decreased enrollment, some are beyond our control while others offer us a challenge. Population shifts within our cities always plays a role in student numbers. This factor is obviously beyond the scope of what an individual Catholic community can change.
Economic challenges almost always contribute to enrollment drops, especially in communities still struggling to recover from the recession. This reality demands that we look for creative, efficient and stable sources of income beyond tuition. If Catholic education played a role in your formation, perhaps you would consider supporting a school in our diocese.
The remaining factors that impact enrollment relate to the choice that families make regarding the education of their children. This choice is based on how our Catholic schools and centers match up with the desires of the family for education versus the options available within each community – public schools, charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.
This brings me back to the theme for the year: FAMILY. It is in the context of family, parents and children, that the decision is made to select a Catholic school or other educational institution with which to partner. In the communities within our diocese where Catholic schools and centers are located, I ask all families not already enrolled to take a look at what a partnership with a Catholic School/Center can be for your family. Our doors are open. We encourage you to visit us, and consider us for your family. Regardless of your choice, we here in the Office of Catholic Education wish all families a successful school year.
(Catherine Cook is the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Killing old habits makes way for virtue

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
The human comedy never stops. We crave change. And we dread it. Haunted by this love-hate, attracting-repelling relationship, we tentatively forge our way through life, trudging on because of ourselves and in spite of ourselves. Habit is the word. Habit becomes so much a part of us that it becomes us. We are our habits, and don’t you even dare think of trying to change these individual bundles of habits.
Mahatma Gandhi warns us that our habits are part of a serious progression:
Your beliefs become your thoughts
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your actions
Your actions become your habits
Your habits become your values
Your values become your destiny
Though inspiring, this saying/progression opens up a firestorm of chatter about which comes first, second, etc. It recalls to mind the thoughtful words of Saint Anselm, “I believe that I may understand,” that are based on a statement by Saint Augustine, “Believe in order that you may understand.” However, it would seem unlikely that one would believe anything before puzzling over ideas, all creation and the manifold things and people in life that might lead one to believe. This is true, unless one is taking “I believe” to be a synonym for “I think,” not for a matter of faith.
Values appears to be the next word out of sequence. Even though habitual behavior plus environment can gravely affect our sense of values, the core genesis of values lies at the roots of our beliefs. It is our belief system that enables us to discern between good and evil, between things of fleeting value and those of eternal value. So how are values and virtues related to the habits we acquire in our lifetime?
In Philippians 4:8, Paul describes virtues as “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report.” Spiritual writers always add one ingredient: these good works are virtues once they become habits.
All of us visit the spiritual realm, usually for short bursts of time. The saints, however, simply dwell there most of the time and, eventually, practically all the time. Holiness becomes a habit to them, a chosen way of life at all times. Since we are our habits, the saints add, “We are the virtues/spiritual habits by which we live.”
The highest and most powerful of all habits/virtues result from being molded by Christ the Potter: “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way; thou art the Potter, I am the clay,” is a powerful, deeply moving hymn that is apropos any time of the year. The great prophet nailed it in Isaiah 64:7, “You, oh Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the Potter; we are the work of your hand.”
Finally, Paul sums up the ultimate reach of virtue/habit in Galatians 2:19-20, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet, I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Alas, back to earth again, ingrown human habits often cause even the best of advice – tips – to go not just unheeded but flat out ignored, as if the sentiment of the advisee is, “Who needs his/her advice anyway?” Such a reaction makes one loath to give advice, even when asked for it. Creatures of habit that they are, relatively few people really want serious advice, however much they claim to desire it or ask for it.
Of course, one of the worst things that can befall us is that someone meanly belittles our advice or even tramples upon and resents our very effort and ideas. In many cases, a good message or piece of advice is rejected because the messenger is disliked or mistrusted by minds that have been poisoned, prejudiced or spoiled.
Today, after I had been saying this in vain for three years, joyful feedback came about a simple time-saver, money-saver that is ridiculously easy to set up and painless to set in motion. It is simply to put a large, dry, clean towel in with your clothes to be dried. “It cut my drying time by half!” said Brenda “Bubbles” Curtis, the affable cook/housekeeper at Holy Ghost Church rectory in Opelousas, Louisiana.
Most are a lot more status quo than they are willing to admit, readily walking, running or driving in the time-worn ruts of our forebears and fellow travelers. Even so-called rebels seem to run out of habit-kicking steam as they approach middle age.
Ingrained habits are worth nothing of themselves, and neither is change good of itself. But habit and change collaborating with true values are a Godsend for us all.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Baton Rouge bishop visits shelters, dispenses Mass obligation in face of widespread floods

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) – As Louisiana’s governor announced the federal government had declared a major disaster for the state Aug. 14, Catholic churches in the Baton Rouge Diocese called for volunteers to help those displaced by extreme flooding and asked flood victims what assistance they needed.
Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters at a news conference that about 20,000 people had been rescued from their homes and more than 10,000 people were in shelters after a slow-moving tropical storm system dumped nearly 2 feet of rain on southern Louisiana. Several rivers crested at record levels.
As of mid-morning Aug. 15, state officials said at least six people have died in the floods.
Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench visited three evacuation shelters Aug. 14 to comfort evacuees. In a statement the day before, he dispensed Sunday Mass obligations for all Catholics affected by the storm and urged parishioners to limit their driving over the weekend because of “the inherent dangers of unsafe driving conditions.”
“Please know of my prayers for your safety and the safety of your church parishes and parishioners,” he said in a message to pastors.
On Aug. 12 Edwards declared a state of emergency for the state of Louisiana and deployed the Louisiana National Guard. He then requested that President Barack Obama issue a federal disaster declaration. With that  declaration – which initially affects four civil parishes, with more expected – residents can seek assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At least 18 civil parishes have declared a state of emergency, with more expected to do so.
In a notice on its website, St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in East Baton Rouge civil parish called on parishioners available to volunteer to attend a morning meeting Aug. 15 to help with “flood relief planning and implementation.”
“It is possible that a significant number of our parish staff are unable to leave their homes and come to work, so we will need to rely heavily on parish volunteers,” the notice said.
At least two other Baton Rouge parishes, St. George and St. Aloysius, have set up Web pages asking flood victims to submit requests for help and asking others to list the kind of help they can provide.

Bishop urges people to listen, learn, pray, act to foster racial harmony

By Joseph Kenny
ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, said his background is as an academic, with writings on theological and pastoral topics, and not as an expert in a field related to racial matters.
But he has become an important voice in the Catholic Church on the topic, thanks to his writings.
His pastoral letter “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015” was followed early this year by “The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited.”
The second pastoral was a basis for his address to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and a Lenten reflection at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as the Aug. 8 talk sponsored by the St. Charles Lwanga Center, the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver, and the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
After the well-researched yet plain-spoken talk in St. Louis, several people — black and white, young and old — lined up before a microphone to add personal experiences of a racial divide or ask questions about how they can play a role in easing it. Applause and reactions from the attendees showed they were engaged with the topic and encouraged by the talk.
Several times Bishop Braxton asked people to listen, learn, think, pray and act on the issue of racial equality and harmony.
“Listen to people who think differently than you. Tell your children and your children’s children. Finally, act. Everyone can do something,” he said, recalling Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, who told him, “I must do what I can,” when he asked her why she continued her work with the poor and dying.
He hopes to raise consciousness and encourage a civil discourse about the powerful challenges.
The Black Lives Matter movement that sprang from the shooting deaths of black men in confrontations with police and an All Lives Matter response are compatible, Bishop Braxton said. However, “it is necessary to acknowledge the legitimacy of the particular concern for the lives of people of color. This is not something Americans recognize,” he said.
He gave the example of being in a secure home with plenty to eat and facing a family in dire need of food and shelter.
In the case of the second family,at case, “it is their lives and not mine that are in peril. If you simply say ‘All Lives Matter,’ there is a danger of falsely implying that every group of Americans is facing the same degree of peril, which then makes it possible to ignore or deny pressing issues like the frequent violent and fatal treatment of African-Americans in the face of minor or suspected misconducts. They seem to be tried, convicted and sentenced to death on the streets.”
Bishop Braxton, a former auxiliary bishop in St. Louis, said police officers have a very difficult and dangerous job. They deserve respect and gratitude, and their lives matter, he said.
At the same time, he said, “the point of Black Lives Matter is that many in the African-American community face existential threats that must not be ignored.”
Bishop Braxton encouraged audience members who spoke during the comment period after his talk. He urged a high school student from a nearly all-white suburban parish to visit parishes with diversity, serve on a justice and peace committee and most of all to express discomfort when others are belittling someone who is different from themselves. He told another person not to wait for her priest to gather people together because through her baptism she is the Church and is called to share the Gospel. He also urged support for schools that serve children in economically disadvantaged communities.
Bishop Braxton cited the unique peril that makes the Black Lives Matter movement relevant. But it should not be silent about the significant number of young African-American males who die at the hands of other African-Americans or alarmingly high number of abortions, he said. He also called for a repudiation of any form of violence against white people, especially police officers.
A recognition must be made that the lives of other vulnerable, marginalized groups in the country also matter, he added.
He praised Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate who was a survivor of Nazi death camps, for bringing the word’s attention to the horrors of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust as well as being a champion for the human rights of oppressed people around the world.
(Editor’s Note: Bishop Braxton’s 2015 and 2016 pastorals on the racial divide in the U.S. can be found on the website of the Diocese of Belleville,