CHICAGO — In the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Chicago pastors led hundreds peacefully through their community June 12 calling for racial justice and unity before ending at the site where Rev. King once lived.
St. Agatha Parish co-sponsored the march with other faith leaders from the community. At different stops on the march, pastors and civic leaders called for reform in health care, education, criminal justice and economic development.
Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha, addressed marchers on the steps of the historic Stone Temple Baptist Church, where King preached, and called on white people to recognize their racial biases and commit to correcting them. Dowling is white, and his parishioners are predominantly African American.
The church has a role to play in making racial equality a reality and a Gospel mandate to serve, care for and empower those who are oppressed, the priest said after the march.
“It’s in our social teaching, the respect for human life, which means every human life from conception until death,” he told the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese. “We need to hold to that, especially as a church that is still predominantly white — at least in the United States. We need, as white people, to step up to the conversion we need to recognize our own complicity in this and to be part of the solution for everyone.”
That can happen if people commit to being part of the solution and are open to honest conversations and listening to each other, he said.
“As Christians, we have to face the fact that if any of our brothers and sisters are hurting simply because of the color of their skin, we need to be involved in that,” Dowling said. “As I often tell people, if it comes across the borders of our consciousness that we know that people are being oppressed, we need to do something about that. And if we don’t, we are complicit in the sin.”
It comes down to people stepping out of their comfort zones and having discussions about tough issues, he noted.
“It’s creating those safe spaces. Safe doesn’t mean you’re not going to be challenged but you’re doing so in the spirit of seeking wisdom. Every single person has a story to share,” Dowling said. “We need to listen to each other and help each other in the best way possible so everybody can add their unique value to the world.”
Capuchin Franciscan Brother Mike Dorn, from St. Clare of Montefalco Parish in Chicago, attended the protest to show support for the African American community and to stand against racism.
“This (racism) has been going on for hundreds of years,” Dorn said. “As a person of faith, we have to recognize our Black and brown brothers and sisters — especially our Black brothers and sisters who are pleading for white America to listen to them, to see their plight, to what they are enduring at the hands of police and systemic racism in general.”
Dorn, who also is white, said he is seeking tangible ways to be part of the solution, especially within the church.
“How can we look at our own institutions within the Catholic Church, within our religious orders, within our jobs, laypeople and so forth, how can we change the systemic racism, letting Black and brown people lead us rather than continuing this dynamic where we think we’re in charge?” he asked.
“Because it can’t work otherwise,” he added.
St. Agatha parishioner Carl Mance attended the march and said he found hope in seeing so many faith and civic leaders together.
“The situation needs to be resolved with all the degradation and things that are really happening,” said Mance, who is African American. “It goes without saying we really have to come together and resolve some of our differences without all this chaos. Now is the time to do that.”
Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.