Racism and Being ‘Catholic’
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
The majority of people reading this article could probably explain what the word “catholic” means. Namely, that it means “universal.” 
This word has been associated with Christianity from the earliest days for obvious reasons. It describes both the universality of God’s plan of salvation and the underlying bond that exists between all believers regardless of any other considerations. One is a Christian because of a belief in Jesus as God’s Son and Savior of the world. As such, Christianity is open to all people who share the same belief. 
Part of that belief includes the understanding that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore share the same fundamental and inalienable dignity. All people therefore are rightly understood as being a beloved daughter or son of God and are called to eternal happiness with Him. 
This underlying connection is reflected in the meaning of that word “catholic.” But how well do we as “Catholics” live that reality? Do we fight for it and defend it wherever it is threatened? Those questions must be answered “yes” individually if there is ever a chance it will be the predominate answer we give collectively as a body of believers. 
In the past weeks we’ve witnessed the unrest surrounding questions of racism in our country. As believers in the basic dignity of every human person, racism is clearly a great evil which undermines our God-given connectedness. Racist thoughts, words and actions are unambiguously sins. Racism is detrimental to its victims, its perpetrators and to a just society as a whole. 
While the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks briefly about it, in recent days Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops have spoken very forcefully and at far greater length. Much of what they’ve said mirrors the concerns laid out in the pastoral letter about racism in the United States, entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts” from 2018. This document seems particularly relevant for us as Catholics to be familiar with today.
Racism in any form is incompatible with Catholicism. Racist opinions, comments or acts invalidate the claim to be truly “Catholic” or to believe in the God-given dignity of every person. The events of the last several weeks call each of us to a place of deep self-reflection — to examine our hearts on this issue — and if necessary, to work on making our hearts conform ever closer to Christ’s Sacred Heart. 
God has made each of us unique. However, this gift of uniqueness brings about the reality of differences between people. These differences may be small or great. They may include things like race and country of origin. 
We know from our own experiences how difficult it can be to love even those who are closest to us — even those like us. How much more challenging will it be then to love those who are different from us? 
But Jesus makes it clear that those claiming to be His followers must learn to go beyond loving those who are the easiest for us to love. His followers must learn to reflect His own universal love for all who share in His image and likeness. In our own learning to love those who may be different from us in some ways, we have perhaps the greatest opportunity to realize that, in fact, they are not that different after all. As we come to this realization, we come to better understand what being “Catholic” is really all about. 
Many people in our country see the current struggles with race as an opportunity to bring about reform for society. And while there will continue to be disagreements about what that might look like or how far reaching those changes might be, each of us can see the current struggles over race, at the very least, as an opportunity for personal reform or a deepening of our commitment to love all people as Christ would have us love them.