El Paso, Texas, Oct 15, 2019 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso issued a pastoral letter Sunday reflecting on the area's history of racism and encouraging Catholics to be a source of justice, after a mass shooting in the city some months ago.
Night Will Be No More was issued Oct. 13 “on the theme of racism and white supremacy to reflect together on the evil that robbed us of 22 lives.”
Bishop Seitz wrote that “God can only be calling our community to greater fidelity. Together we are called to discern the new paths of justice and mercy required of us and to rediscover our reasons for hope.”
An armed man opened fire at a shopping complex in El Paso Aug. 3, killing 22 and injuring more than two dozen. The shooter reportedly published a four-page document online in the hours before the attack, detailing his hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics.
“Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy,” said Bishops Seitz.
“I know God will never allow the hate that visited our community on August 3rd to have the last word. We must recommit ourselves to the hospitality and compassion that characterized our community long before we were attacked, with all the risk and vulnerability which that entails. We must continue to show the rest of the country that love is capable of mending every wound,” he added.
While a lack of gun control and mental healthcare contribute to mass shootings, the bishop said, he noted racism as the prime motivator for the attack in El Paso.
“This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color,” he said.
“This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization.”
He said that “the history of colonization can discern both the presence of a genuine Christian missionary impulse as well as the deployment of white supremacy and cultural oppression as tools of economic ambition, imperial adventurism and political expansion.”
The bishop asserted that “it was in the encounter between the Spanish colonists and Indigenous communities that fateful identities were co-produced and sinful notions of civilized versus uncivilized and the invention of the savage were born.”
He chronicled the history of racism and discrimination among various groups in the area.
“Older generations of El Pasoans still talk about entrenched attitudes against Latinos and how the system was stacked against them growing up. Latinos were excluded from political life by a closed network dominated by White, wealthy men. Latino children at school didn’t see themselves, not in the faces of their teachers or school leadership, but only custodial and cafeteria staff,” he said.
He called the wall on the US-Mexico border wall “a powerful symbol in the story of race” which “has helped to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects.”
“It is not just a tool of national security. More than that, the wall is a symbol of exclusion, especially when allied to an overt politics of xenophobia … The wall deepens racially charged perceptions of how we understand the border as well as Mexicans and migrants. It extends racist talk of an ‘invasion’.”
For Bishop Seitz, the border wall “perpetuates the racist myth that the area south of the border is dangerous and foreign and that we are merely passive observers in the growth of narco-violence and the trafficking of human beings and drugs.”
It is the responsibility of Catholics to defend the immigrant, he said. He pointed to the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who asked Saint Juan Diego to build a church in her honor. In the image, Our Lady is depicted as a mestiza “who takes what is noble from each culture, elevates it and points out new ways towards reconciliation,” he said.
“Our Lady affirmed Juan Diego against dehumanization. And that affirmation came with a divine charge to make persistent petition before the authorities and build a temple.”
Likewise, he said Catholics must build a “Temple of Justice” through which solidarity, friendship, and charity may take place. He said the evil history of racism may be overcome with encounters of love.
“God offers us the chance to build a new history where racism does not prevail. The ‘manifesto’ of hate and exclusion that entered our community can be countered with a manifesto of radical love and inclusion. I want to see an El Paso that addresses both the legacy of racism and one which builds more just structures to eradicate and overcome that history.”
He said there must be practical steps of inclusion and love, overcoming unjust political measures and the racism of the past. There needs to be a new history of human rights and bridge building, he said.
“It is not enough to not be racist. Our reaction cannot be non-engagement. We must also make a commitment to be anti-racists in active solidarity with the suffering and excluded,” he said.
“We must take active steps to defend the human rights of everyone in our border community and their dignity against dehumanization as we work to forge a new humanity. What racism has divided, with the help of God, we can work to restore.”
To combat racism, he said, measures need to be taken to ensure equal educational opportunities, universal health care, immigration reform, improved wages, and environmental protections. He also emphasized the role of priests and the importance of the sacraments, which communicate anti-racist themes.
“In [baptism] we celebrate the radical transformation and equality that comes from renewal in Christ. In the anointing with holy oils we proclaim a reverence for human life without distinction. The strength of these symbols should flow into our daily parish life and work for justice,” he said.
“Likewise, in our celebration of Mass, pastors can lead our people to a deeper consciousness of the weight of communal and historical sin that we bring to the table of the Lord in the penitential rite. We should ask ourselves carefully who is yet not present, and whose cultures are not yet reflected at the banquet of the Lord that we celebrate at the altar,” he asserted.
He also encouraged President Trump, members of Congress, and the jurists of the highest U.S. courts, “in the absence of immigration reform … to listen to the voice of conscience and halt the deportation of all those who are not a danger to our communities, to stop the separation of families, and to end once and for all the turning back of refugees and death at the border.”
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