Saskatchewan Catholic bishops’ letter addresses the scourge of racism

Hundreds participated in the pre-pandemic 2019 Walk for Reconciliation in Saskatoon. (Catholic Saskatoon News file photo)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

The Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan issued a joint statement regarding racism July 13, calling for a renewed spirit of respect and caring.

Expressing “great concern regarding racial injustices,” the message from the five bishops expresses support for those in the community responding to “the scandal of how people treat one another.”

Signed by Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-LePas, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of Saskatoon, and Bishop Albert Thévenot of Prince Albert, the message cites a number of recent events in the United States and Canada.

“The protests that began over the tragic death of George Floyd in the United States have expanded as protesters raise awareness of widespread injustice,” note the bishops.

“In our own provincial context, people across the province are calling on government, businesses, and all institutions to address inequality and injustices caused by systemic racism. In our context, such systemic racism continues to impact Indigenous Peoples, and those of African and Asian descent, including most recently anti-Asian assaults and offenses in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the bishops write. “We also continue to hear of incidents here in Saskatchewan and in other parts of Canada that are of grave concern.”

Banner on display during a 2015 event in Ottawa, marking the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process and the release of the Calls to Action. (Photo by Bishop Mark Hagemoen)

In the face of a “deterioration of human respect and kindness,” the bishops affirm the intrinsic dignity of every human being.

They also call for “respectful and constructive ways to solve problems and differences, versus spiraling into increasing disrespect and violence.”

Related links:

Saskatchewan Catholic bishops’ joint statement regarding racism

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) statement on racism

STM College President’s statement of commitment to Indigenous Peoples

Citing the Catholic Christian tradition, and beginning with the creation of all people in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), the bishops note that “With the privilege of being created fully human comes the responsibility to live and act towards others as God acts towards us.“

The bishops cite St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2: 1-5)

The Saskatchewan bishops’ message continues: “The privilege of our humanity carries with it the great responsibility of the preferential care of our brothers and sisters – especially those who deal with obstacles, injustices, or other barriers to their human flourishing.”

Banner on display at the 2019 Walk for Reconciliation in Saskatoon. (Catholic Saskatoon News file photo)

Systemic racism that affects our culture in many ways – and which can be aggravated by times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic – “will tear apart human solidarity as it corrupts our minds and hearts,” the bishops write.

They call for an end to the scourge of racism and intolerance, and encourage respectful dialogue to address obstacles to human dignity, and to bring about constructive growth and change – something which the bishops say must first involve personal ongoing conversion.

“’Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!’ (Ezekiel 18:31) We can work constructively for systemic change and growth when we are open to this in our own lives,” says the message.

“Such change also needs to address how we engage and dialogue about difficult topics and issues. In all ways – the Christian community and all people of good will need to hold the bar high in how we behave ourselves and as we seek constructive and respectful dialogue versus the way of destructive confrontation or melancholic disengagement.”

The Catholic Bishops of Saskatchewan quote Pope Francis – “If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society. The culture of dialogue entails a true apprenticeship and a discipline that enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners, to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today we urgently need to engage all the members of society in building a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter and in creating a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society.” (Pope Francis, — Address upon receiving the Charlemagne Prize, May 6, 2016)

The Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan also stress the ongoing work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “We have only just begun to carry out its vision for achieving reconciliation,” they note.

“The circumstances that we face highlighting racism, injustice and violence in our world remind us that we are at an important threshold. May we choose wisely and walk courageously as we, ‘… act justly, love kindly, and walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8).”

Banner on display at the 2019 Walk for Reconciliation in Saskatoon. (Catholic Saskatoon News file photo)