Posted January 4, 2021
The year 2020 overwhelmed us with two pandemics — one new and one old. The new pandemic was the coronavirus. The old one was racism.
Both pandemics took lives, broke hearts, divided loved ones and ravaged communities.
While COVID dominated the whole year, the racism pandemic – which has blazed and cooled in cycles throughout American history – exploded primarily over the summer and fall.
Protests demanding racial justice erupted nationwide in the wake of the racially charged deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other African Americans.
And the outrage wasn’t just societal. Much of it was specifically Catholic.
Calling George Floyd’s death tragic, Pope Francis said: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
The National Black Catholic Congress called for an investigation into Floyd’s death, as a Sister of the Precious Blood told one reporter: “You can only oppress people so long before things tend to erupt.”
In Philadelphia, Archbishop Nelson Pérez called Floyd’s death “tragic, disturbing, and unnecessary” and called on the faithful to work together for social justice.
These calls were not new: In 2018, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committed to “speak forcefully against and work toward ending racism” in their pastoral letter, Open Wide Our Hearts.
But this year’s violence brought new urgency to the issue.
Catholics, Black and White, coming together
Now, two archdiocesan parishes, one predominantly Black and one White, have united in a grassroots effort to answer the call to fight racism, including racism in the church. And they are urging other parishes and faith communities to do likewise.
The Joint Catholic Ministry on Racial Justice is a unique partnership of St. Martin de Porres Parish in North Philadelphia and St. John Chrysostom Parish in Wallingford, Delaware County.
The parishes share a connection in Father Edward Hallinan, current pastor of St. John’s and former pastor of St. Martin’s, which is now led by his friend, Father Steven Thorne.
The joint ministry was established in the wake of a Virtual Town Hall on Racism that the parishes co-hosted last June at Father Thorne’s suggestion. That event drew more than 125 households. While the conversation was meaningful, participants felt that real change demanded a sustained, structured effort.
The new ministry, then nameless, met a month later, comprised of five parishioners from each parish and both pastors. While the clergy participate, the ministry is lay-led, co-facilitated by parishioners James E. Andrews of St. Martin’s and Mary E. Chollet of St. John’s.