METUCHEN, New Jersey — When sin entered the world, the mirror image of God was shattered, said Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio at a June 19 prayer service for racial harmony, peace, justice and healing of the nation.

“Evil is real and even more dangerous than the coronavirus,” Checchio said in his homily during the prayer service, livestreamed from the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi.

On the feast of the Sacred Heart, Checchio gathered with a small number of priests, deacons, lay ministers and members of the Metuchen Diocese’s African American, African and Caribbean Apostolate for what was the third in a series of diocesan-wide prayer services.

The June 19 service, which also marked the eve of the bishop’s 28th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, included adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the Litany of the Sacred Heart.

“As we continue to respond to the global pandemic of COVID-19 and its impact on our health and our economy, evil has shown itself anew to us as the sin and social disease of racism,” he said. “During this already difficult time, confusion, mistrust, anger and anxiety have all helped to bring to light an extremely contagious and dangerous outbreak of hate.”

After his homily and kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, Checchio led a period of prayer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds for George Floyd, his family, and an end to violence and racism.

“My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all equally made in the image and likeness of God. Racism occurs when this fundamental truth is ignored,” he said. “It denies the teaching of Jesus and our common, created humanity. Racism is a sin that divides the human family.”

Calling racism a “national plague,” the bishop urged the faithful to address the sin of racism with the same intensity with which they are using to eradicate COVID-19.

“The root of racism is never ‘someplace else’ but rather it lies within the human heart,” said Checchio. “We each can contribute to a civilization of love or of hate. Racial healing begins by a greater acceptance of our own humanity as a gift from the Father, and then, a recognition that every person is a child of the One Father.”

As disciples of Jesus, he said, Christians are tasked with restoring the perfect image of God, particularly through their actions which are graced and strengthened by participation in the sacramental life of the church, where they are personally renewed.

“We help to restore that image of God in our world by how we live our lives,” he added.

And while “we don’t do it perfectly,” he said, “we strive as Jesus commanded us, ‘to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.'”

Through the sacraments, prayer and offerings of daily works of sacrifice, God makes a bit of himself present in the world “in each of us every time we act in his name and live as true brothers and sisters in Christ to one another,” said Checchio.

“God uses us to make himself present in our world by our simple yet genuine acts of love, and hence the world better reflects the image of God himself as we renew the face of the earth, making it over in God’s own image,” he added. “Yes, God provides us with all we need to strive to be perfect, like him, and the hallmark of one’s friendship with Jesus — for all of us — is to absorb the life of Jesus so completely, that we want only to do what he wants to do through us.”

Taking the name, in part, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” the Diocese of Metuchen called its prayer services “Enduring Love: Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for racial harmony, peace, justice and healing in our nation.” The services have been livestreamed from different parishes throughout the diocese every Friday during June.

Checchio noted that the faithful coming together in prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for racial harmony, peace, justice and healing in the nation, especially on the feast, was a special way to mark the vigil of his anniversary.

“I’ve been so blessed to be able to serve in different ministries throughout these years, and the people, clergy and religious of Metuchen have certainly been a particular blessing that I thank God for each day,” he said.