(This column was originally emailed to the Belen Jesuit school community as a special edition of Father Willie's To My Boys column on June 2, 2020)
You probably were not expecting another installment of the To My Boys emails so quickly after the end of the academic year. You probably thought I was going to give you a break during the summer months, that you were not going to be hearing from me for a while.
On May 25th, our nation once again witnessed the gross violation of a person’s human dignity because of the color of their skin. The brutal and unnecessary death of George Floyd is a scene that is all too often repeated in our communities, towns, and cities today. How many more people have to die before we come to the realization that there is still today a systemic evil that pervades so much of our society?
As members of a Catholic-Christian community that embraces the gospel values of Jesus Christ, that understands the inherent and unconditional value of human life because we are all created in the image and likeness of God, we must unequivocally denounce all forms of racism and discrimination against all people of color. Nothing can be more opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
This is not something to be taken lightly. Nor is it something that can be pushed to the side, ignored, much less ridiculed. The Belen Jesuit community, all students, parents, administration, faculty, staff, and alumni have a moral obligation to stand in solidarity with those who are persecuted and whose rights are grossly violated. The need to bring about real change does not simply lie in the hands of political leaders, police departments, or even those who are abused. The responsibility is ours, all of ours.
I am reminded of the harrowing Holocaust poem of the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöler, “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up for me.”
At the very heart of Jesuit education is the need to work for justice. A great injustice has occurred as it does all too often in the world and, in particular, our country. It cannot be ignored. Belen Jesuit condemns emphatically the sin of racism. We echo the words of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that insists that, “What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change, and the reform of our institutions and society.” And, it is only “in Christ we can find the strength and the grace necessary to make the journey” (Open Wide our Hearts).