As the pastor of two Catholic parishes in the East Bay — Christ the King in Pleasant Hill and St. Stephen in Walnut Creek — I have been disappointed in our church leaders who have the capacity to change minds and attitudes during this time of national reckoning over race.
So many are not visible anywhere in the Black Lives Matter movement and fight for racial justice. Their silence is deafening, to say the least, and is a sign of fear of backlash and retaliation from certain congregants they value.
An African-American religious leader in Oakland recently warned me that we definitely will lose our brothers and sisters in his community because of inaction and a lack of warmth. The Catholic Church is built on a European model that has little appreciation for Black culture, he said. Some of our bishops are not comfortable in a Black church, as they feel that the cultural expressions during the liturgy run counter to traditional beliefs and practices.
As our society wrestles with the realities of systemic racism and failures of our government to live up to our national ideals of equality and justice, it is imperative that houses of prayer undergo the same reflection about our own historic failures in matters of race.
According to Bishop Shelton Fabre from Louisiana, African-American Catholics have suffered from racism within the church for “decades and centuries,” and sometimes it has taken the form of “parishes not welcoming the ministry of a black priest or deacon,” or “parishioners not wanting to receive the Eucharist from an African-American extraordinary minister of holy communion.”
As late as the 1940s, it was common for urban Catholic parishes to force Black parishioners to sit at the back of the church and approach the altar last for Communion, according to Robert P. Jones, author of the new book “White Too Long: The History of White Supremacy in American Christianity.”
It is critically important that we have the moral courage to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the shared history. I’m sorry for the role my church has played in the harm that has been caused to our communities of color.
Black Lives Matter is a call to consciousness of the many ways our society, including faith communities, have historically communicated to our fellow Americans of color that their lives do not matter, at least not as much as their countrywomen and men.
For us Christians, that call to consciousness must be accompanied by a fresh commitment to repair the damage that has been done in our own houses, which are built on the foundation of the beatitudes: feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, reaching out to the erring prisoner and thirsting for righteousness.
When the pandemic is over, when people return to “normal,” when the protests and marches cease, what will our houses of prayer look like? Will we have lost young people and young adults who are on the streets clamoring for change? Will we have lost immigrants, people of color and especially our sisters and brothers from the African-American community?
If we expose ourselves to the virus of not embracing everyone, the virus of not standing up for truth and justice, we will see the effects — if not today, then months and years from now.
The Rev. Paulson Mundanmani, a Catholic priest and native of India, is the pastor of Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill and St. Stephen’s Parish in Walnut Creek.