Colleen Rowan Photo
Bishop Mark Brennan, right, joins Father Carlos Melocoton, Jr., pastor of St. Michael Parish in Wheeling, left, and parishioners at the church June 17 for the “Peace, Justice, and Love” Prayer Service.
By Colleen Rowan
Wheeling’s St. Michael Parish community came together with Bishop Mark Brennan “to pray for an end to racism and inequality and to commit ourselves, as individuals and as a community, to work for bringing about God’s peace, justice, and love in our world,” Father Carlos Melocoton, Jr., pastor, said in opening the June 17 prayer service. The gathering, aptly named “Peace, Justice, and Love,” was livestreamed on the parish’s Facebook page and began with a welcome from parishioner Kathleen Dieffenbaugher.
Father Melocoton followed his remarks by asking for a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives due to racial violence.
In his talk, “Human Dignity and Gift of Life,” Bishop Brennan shared that his parents taught him and his brother to respect all people, and did so by their own actions. He recalled a story from his youth in which his father, who was in the Navy, was on a planning committee for a picnic for the families on the base. This particular year, Bishop Brennan said, the picnic would be at a beach in southern Maryland. His mother and father were told, “Our beach is whites only.”
“My dad said, ‘the day we come it’s integrated…’ And it was,” Bishop Brennan said. “We learned something from mom and dad—that black lives do matter.”
Racism disrespects the divine image in people, the bishop said. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, human beings’ intelligence, strength and creativity, love and the capacity to love, all reflect God’s attributes, he said. That’s why, he noted, that it is said human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and that is true of all human beings regardless of race or any other external attribute they may have.
“Pope Francis said, rightly, racism is a pro-life issue,” Bishop Brennan emphasized, “precisely because it is the same denial of the humanity and the worth of a human being as in abortion and euthanasia… it denies people’s humanity because of the color of their skin” or their race.
Life is a gift from God, the bishop said, and one’s gift to God is to treat others with respect and how he or she wishes to be treated. The golden rule, Bishop Brennan said, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. “How do you want to be treated?” he asked. “Fairly and with respect, and given a helping hand when you need it.”
Focus, he continued, should be on removing obstacles that hold people back, and to love one’s neighbor as thy self. With all that is going on, the bishop said, the question is what should we be doing? The gathering that night was a great response—coming together to reflect on a real problem in society, gathering in prayer and reflecting on the word of God and praying.
“We need to pray for strength to examine our own attitudes. As Scripture says, the first thing a just person does is to accuse himself,” Bishop Brennan said. “No one has the right to cast the first stone, we have all sinned. And a just person recognizes that.”
This is a time when people can look at themselves and ask, “What can I change in me?” he said.
“Racial justice really takes a conversion of mind and heart,” the bishop said. He noted the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech, I Have a Dream: “Now is the time to lift our nation out of the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherly love.”
“Words as pertinent today as they were so long ago,” the bishop said.
All should really reflect on the reality of racism in light of faith, the bishop said, encouraging all to read “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism” by the U.S. bishops in 2018. The document may be found on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website: www. usccb.org under Issues and Actions, then clicking Racism.
Bishop Brennan also encouraged all to think about how they can relate to people of other races. Conversations and gatherings in parishes are a good way to go, he said, remembering engaging in such gatherings as a college student.
Finally, he said, it is important to support efforts to overcome the effects of racism, and think about what everyone can do to create a more just society for all. He also shared that as a pastor his parish was involved in a cursillio in which black and white members worked together. “Because Jesus Christ is the one that brings unity to all human beings and looking to him they discovered one another, truly, as brothers and sisters,” the bishop said.
“It’s possible,” he said. “We have to trust God to work in and through us.”
Seek the Holy Spirit, Bishop Brennan said, “My brothers and sisters, with God all things are possible.”
The prayer service continued with words from a few parishioners. In his talk, “Common Good and Quality of Life,” Damion Saunders shared his experience as a black teenager who came to live with a white family.
“I remember the first day I was there, I realized this is just like my family,” he said. “They want the same things for their kids that my mom wants for her kids.”
This is a time for unity, he said, and knowing that people are there for each other.
“We have the ability to make a change,” he said. “But for us to have change we have to learn things about one another.”
It’s not enough for one to say he or she is not racist, Saunders said, people must stand up against racism. “Now is a time in our society that we have to decide to actively fight racism,” he said.
Saunders continued by saying, “In the situation that was the pinnacle to bringing us all here, we have an officer that everybody wants to judge officers by and since then we have looters who everybody wants to judge protesters by. We know that 98 percent of people down the middle are good people, but we’re just shifting the focus to the extremes on each end.”
Saunders said it is important for people to not be silent or apathetic about racism. “Until that happens,” he said, “there will be no change.”
Further remarks were offered by Daniel O’Leary on “Harmony and Respect’ and by Father Martin Smay, associate pastor, on “Peace, Justice, and Love.”
Before the closing prayer by Father Paul Cabrita, SM, and the final blessing by Bishop Brennan, Father Melocoton came to the altar to light a candle for all victims of racism.