The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved today, during its November General Assembly, the formal statement, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter Against Racism." The full body of bishops approved it by a two-thirds majority vote of 241 to 3 with 1 abstention.
The USCCB Cultural Diversity in the Church Committee, chaired by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS, of San Antonio, Texas, spearheaded the letter’s drafting and guided it through the voting process. Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, of Houma-Thibodaux, Chairman of U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and Chair of the Sub-committee on African American Affairs within the Cultural Diversity Committee, issued the following statement:
“The entire body of bishops felt the need to address the topic of racism, once again, after witnessing the deterioration of the public discourse, and episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones, that have re-emerged in American society in the last few years. Pastoral letters from the full body of bishops are rare, few and far between. But at key moments in history the bishops have come together for important pronouncements, paying attention to a particular issue and with the intention of offering a Christian response, full of hope, to the problems of our time. This is such a time.”
Initiated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in August 2017, the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism was created to address the evil of racism in our society and Church, to address the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions, and to support the implementation of the bishops’ pastoral letter on racism.
“Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” is a Pastoral Letter from the full body of bishops to the lay faithful and all people of goodwill addressing the evil of racism.
The pastoral letter asks us to recall that we are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God. Because we all bear the image of God, racism is above all a moral and theological problem that manifests institutionally and systematically. Only a deep individual conversion of heart, which then multiplies, will compel change and reform in our institutions and society. It is imperative to confront racism’s root causes and the injustice it produces. The love of God binds us together. This same love should overflow into our relationships with all people. The conversions needed to overcome racism require a deep encounter with the living God in the person of Christ who can heal all division.
"Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love," is not the first time the U.S. Bishops have spoken as a collectively on race issues in the United States, but it is the first time in almost 40 years.
In 1979, they approved "Brothers and Sisters to Us: A Pastoral Letter on Racism in Our Day." Among the many things, they discussed was the fact that "Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father." The newly approved “Open Wide Our Hearts” continues the message that “Brothers and Sisters to Us” sought to convey.
The full text, as well as many accompanying pastoral resources, will be posted at http://www.usccb.org/racism. Resources will include a bulletin insert, homily help, prayer materials, background information on systemic racism, and activities for primary, secondary, and higher education classroom settings.