St. Louis Archdiocese Responds to Ferguson Crisis: At Mass, archbishop outlines steps to 'dismantle systemic racism'

Protesters attempt to close a busy road in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 11. The area has been the epicenter of rioting following the Aug. 9 shooting and killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

With the strife and violence continuing in the aftermath of Michael Brown's shooting death by a police officer in Ferguson, more than 500 St. Louis Catholics gathered for a votive Mass for peace and justice Aug. 20 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

Brown, 18, was black, and Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him Aug. 9, is white.

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St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated the Mass with 27 priests and, in his homily, laid out five important steps to "dismantle systemic racism," which has become evident in Ferguson:

-- "I am re-establishing today the Human Rights Commission in the Archdiocese of St Louis."-- "I am asking the Charles Lwanga Center to begin a study and offer solutions to decrease violence in our communities and in our families."

-- "I pledge an ongoing commitment to provide a pathway out of poverty by providing scholarships so that young people can receive a quality education in our Catholic schools." (He noted that 3,000 children have received scholarships in the last year.)

-- "I pledge my support and the support of the archdiocese to assist the churches in Ferguson to deal with issues of poverty and racism."

-- "Finally, I am asking each priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to offer a Mass for Justice and Peace."

As Archbishop Carlson noted, "This is a modest beginning, but begin we shall."

"There is more that will need to be done, and we will work to open dialogue with the churches, community leaders and people of Ferguson," he said.

Archbishop Carlson offered prayers for Brown and his family, for Wilson and his family, for first responders and their families, and for community leaders.

"We ask for the wisdom and compassion and courage to address the brokenness and division that confronts us as we recognize there is an irrepressible yearning present in the heart of each person for good," he said, noting that the church has been down this road before.

He spoke of one of his predecessors, Cardinal Joseph Ritter, who in the summer of 1947, "wrote to the priests of the archdiocese announcing the desegregation of our Catholic schools; this paved the way for the desegregation of the public schools seven years later."

In 1963, St. Louis priests made a pledge on the equality of all people and that summer the Human Rights Commission was established.

"Many priests and religious are still living who walked with (the Rev.) Martin Luther King defending the dignity of every human person," he said.

"In the face of brokenness and shame and heartbreak Jesus calls us to come to him and encourages us so that we do not walk away," he continued. "The time has come for us to acknowledge decades of hurt and mistrust and suspicion and prejudices and, yes, even a tragic death. ... We hear the Lord's gentle voice as he invites us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and his invitation to each one of us to be peacemakers."

The Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes provide Catholics with a roadmap to address the underlying issues in the death of Brown and what has followed, Archbishop Carlson said.

"Like the first disciples, we need to leave our ordinary way of doing things behind and follow Jesus, a journey that is never easy," he said.

Prayer is necessary for the journey, Archbishop Carlson said, citing Blessed Teresa, who started her day with an hour of eucharistic adoration.

"It was only after prayer that she would leave to serve," he said. "Prayer is the inexhaustible source of our service."

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Luis Gutierrez
3 years 12 months ago
What about dismantling sexism in both church and society?
William Atkinson
3 years 12 months ago
Luis: your post is apples and oranges, this article is about "Systemic Racism", keep to the point.
Robert O'Connell
3 years 12 months ago
In many respects, Christianity is the ultimate "affirmative action" plan: we are taught to turn the other cheek, to give our cloak -- indeed, to love our neighbor, to "Follow" Jesus! Frankly, young Michael Brown would have never been shot if he was not walking in the middle of the street, but Jesus does not limit his love to law-abiding people. Nor should we.
William Atkinson
3 years 12 months ago
Just a small part of Christ's teachings, He also taught by his example the actions He took when society performed ugly, such as his ranting and raving at the businesses that grew up and performed bad actions, such as when he tore through the temple grounds and plazas wrecking havoc for those who would turn the house of God into a street fair, or words and answers that offended him (Get behind me Satan). With the types of massacres like Khmer Rough in Cambodia, The Holocaust in Europe, and ISIS today, actions must be taken by the world to rid the world of such horrors. Racism in all societies is embedded so deep that even without a racial person about an individual possesses a kind of inborn rebellion of peoples who are different than themselves. Its a evil that each person can wake up to and deal with. One of the best ways is for a community to become proportionate to its make up; where all government levels, (administration, leaders, enforcement, protection, education, utilities, businesses, and religious entities) are all required to be percentages of the communities, towns, cities, state, and national make up that truly represents the people.
Robert O'Connell
3 years 12 months ago
Absolutely: how else will I get to be a player in the NBA?
E.Patrick Mosman
3 years 12 months ago
“I am the attorney general of the United States,” Holder told a group of local college students. “But I am also a black man.” Any chance that a white policeman will get a fair hearing? While the press and other rabble rousers are focusing on what Officer Wilson knew or did not know, both Mr Brown and his sidekick "Hands up Don't shoot" buddy knew that they had just committed a crime and the buddy reportedly had a warrant out for his arrest when Officer Wilson attempted to stop them from walking down the middle of the street. This knowledge may have led to the initial confrontation between Officer Wilson and Brown and Brown's ultimate death. Headlines for last weekend in New York City and Chicago 15 shot in NYC within 8 hours, 2 dead Posted: Aug 17, 2014 7:39 PM EDT Updated: Aug 18, 2014 Seven Killed, 29 Wounded In City Shootings Over Weekend August 18, 2014 6:10 AM And what is reported when a black officer kills an unarmed white/Hispanic? http://www.wnd.com/2014/08/black-cop-kills-white-man-media-hide-race/ Little or nothing! Where are the outrage and the riots? Where are Jackson and Sharpton? Where are Obama and Holder? Where is Church on these facts? Where is the national press?

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