South Africa's bishops have asked all priests and parishioners to commit themselves to "a candid conversation on racism and its manifestations," adding that they "realize that this is not an easy conversation, one that many of us may prefer to avoid."
South Africans need to "acknowledge the link between race, power and privilege" and redress the economic inequalities brought about by past discriminatory laws and practices, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference said in a March 7 pastoral letter signed by its president, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town.
"The campaign will mean acknowledging the presence of racism in the church before and during the apartheid era and in these years of democracy," the bishops said, noting that they humbly "ask for forgiveness for our historic complicity with racism in the church."
While whites account for only 9 percent of South Africa's population of 50 million, 70 percent of top managers are white, according to an article in The New York Times.
"We commit ourselves to a credible and comprehensive conversation on racism," the bishops said, noting that "dialogue, rational and respectful, is necessary so that we open ourselves to receive God's healing."
The "social trauma" as a result of "centuries of colonialism and the violent decades of apartheid" must be addressed, and South Africans need to work together to achieve healing as a nation, they said.
"Our invitation to such a dialogue may in itself evoke a range of emotions," including self-justification, guilt, denial, anger and sadness, the bishops said.
Apartheid, South Africa's official system of racial segregation, was in place from 1948 to 1994.
Noting that the campaign will include small-group reflection in South Africa's dioceses, the bishops said they encourage open dialogue within parishes with parishioners appreciating racial diversity and becoming more culturally inclusive.
"We ask all parish priests and parishioners to commit themselves to a parish campaign to overcome racism," such as "special days of prayer and fasting, cooperating with other parishes across racial lines and working with organizations promoting the dismantling of racism," they said.