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Rooting out Racism - Conversation and Conversion in a parish

  • Maggie Beirne

Pre-pandemic, have you ever had someone refuse to shake hands with you when you offer them the sign of peace at Mass? Have you ever had to console your young daughter when she comes home crying from her Catholic primary school because other children think she is "too black" to play with? Have you ever felt like an outsider or even unwelcome when entering your parish church?

These are the real-life experiences that Fr Richard Nesbitt of Our Lady of Fatima parish in London's White City, Westminster Diocese, learnt about when he preached last year on the dreadful sin that is racism. Parishioners responded positively, saying it was the first time they had heard the issue of racism, including inside the Church, being preached about. From this homily, the parish organised a series of zoom meetings to discuss racism and to explore what could be done. Their starting point was a belief that if Catholics do not act towards each other as children of God - including in the house of God - what hope can there be for challenging the racist behaviour of society generally?

The zoom meetings, organised to bring interested parishioners together to discuss racism, were at times painful and difficult - but also healing and productive. They provided a safe forum within which people could talk about their personal experiences, and how the parish could better reflect and celebrate the diversity of the congregation and counter racism.

Many of the ideas are relevant to all parishes: do the leadership and ministry roles reflect the diversity of those in the pews? Are repository supplies - and the church artwork - full of white-skinned blue-eyed depictions of Jesus, Mary and first communicants? Is there a 'white saviour' attitude conveyed by our charitable efforts and parish appeals? The universal Catholic Church is reflected in the faces in church every Sunday, but is this true for the music, the forms of liturgy, and the social events organised in the parish hall?

White City's conversation on racism has brought real fruit for the parish already, as well as materials which can be of benefit to other parishes across the country.

See 'Rooting out Racism from our parish' - a powerful booklet containing personal reflections on their own experiences of racism from members of the parish group:

The booklet also includes this final interesting reflection from Fr Bryan Massingale, a US Catholic priest, who notes that Catholics are known, even by most non-Catholics, for their fervour in opposing abortion. But he writes: "The Catholic stance on racism, in contrast, can be characterised as tepid, lukewarm and half-hearted. Standing against racism is not a core component of Catholic corporate identity". If this is true of Britain also, White City is providing a parish level commitment to discuss and tackle racism from which we could all learn.


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