After a year that witnessed the deaths of George Floyd and, locally, Dion Johnson, among others at the hands of law enforcement officials followed by nationwide protests, some which had turned violent, it is clear that “the social malady of racism still continues to invade and infect all our institutions,” said the guest homilist at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass Jan. 18 at St. Mary’s Basilica.
“In this country, race still matters when it comes to education, to employment, to housing, to healthcare, to our laws, to our policies, our beliefs, our media, our behaviors and our interactions,” said Fr. Andrew McNair, parochial vicar of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. New to the Diocese of Phoenix, Fr. McNair is currently the only African American priest in the diocese.
“There are those that believe that … as long as you don’t do anything too serious, racism is OK,” he said. “Well, it is not OK, and never will it be okay. Those that are willing to accept racism within certain boundaries overlook the fact that racism is a serious or grave sin.”
Referencing Rev. King’s sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,” Fr. McNair said that love has the power to transform, and this redemptive love will help us overcome racism. This includes recognizing that all people are created in the image and likeness of God.
“All human life is sacred from conception until natural death,” Fr. McNair said. “The fight against racism should be an integral part of the Respect Life Ministry in our Church.”
This also includes constantly examining our own personal attitudes, thoughts and behaviors, as well as our social structures and institutions.
“Eradicating the sin of racism from our society and our Church will not be easy. But we can do it, and we do it in the name of Jesus,” he said.
Even though things may seem better than 50 years ago, racism persists in different forms, but there’s still hope, said Ignacio Rodriguez, associate director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, which coordinates the annual liturgy that coincides with the national holiday recognizing the slain Civil Rights leader.
“As believers in Christ, there’s always hope,” he said.
Andy Hardin, a member of the diocese’s Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission who also attends the Black Catholic Ministry’s monthly Unity Mass at St. Pius X Church, said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to be at home, taking the time to evaluate the experiences of black people in the news and ask, “Is this right, or is this wrong?”
“Those are the things that make so many people angry,” said Hardin, who was in high school and college during the Civil Rights movement. “We’ve been devalued. You’ve come so far to be pushed backwards. These lives have no value to the people that took them or the systems that instructed these people to do that.”
Participating in the Martin Luther King Mass every year is important to Burundian immigrant Monani Tavazimama, who, with her husband Tito, sings in the St. James African Choir.
“We need to come together and pray to God, so we can have peace,” said Tavazimama, recognizing that Rev. King worked to bring peace and equality to their adopted country.