Archbishop Gomez have an interwiew with Alpha y Omega, Archidiocese of Madrid, Spain.
–You stated in the statement following Floyd’s death that racism has “been tolerated too long” in the United States. Although, in your interview with La Stampa, recently, you said it is not a “systematic racism”. How could we understand the reality of racial prejudices that exist in the United States?
-It is sad to say, but racist thinking and racist practices are still everyday realities in American society. We have come a long way in our country, but we have not come nearly far enough. It is still true that people are denied opportunities because of the color of their skin and many injustices in our society are still rooted in racism and discrimination. Too many minority neighborhoods in this country are still “lonely islands of poverty,” which is how Rev. Martin Luther King described them 50 years ago. So, we need to keep working to change this reality. And that is what these demonstrations across the country are about.
–What role does the American Church play in a country with such a entrenched and lasting racial problem?
-Jesus established his Church to be the visible sign of God’s beautiful vision for the human family. More than that, the Church is established to be the instrument that the Father uses to gather his children together, to form one family from out of every nation, race, and language. So that is our mission in society. We are called to proclaim the sanctity and the dignity of the human person, who is a child of God made in God’s image and likeness. This is an important responsibility for all of us in the Church right now. We need to be leaders in a new conversation about criminal justice reform and racial and economic inequality in our country. In our 2018 pastoral letter on racism, my brother bishops and I stated: “What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change, and the reform of our institutions and society.”
That is still true. It is important for us to work to finally rid our society of racism, which is a blasphemy against God who creates all men and women with equal dignity. It has no place in a civilized society and no place in a Christian heart. One of the great holy figures in our history is Venerable Augustine Tolton. He was born in slavery, escaped into freedom with his mother, and became the first black man to be ordained a priest in our country. Father Tolton used to say, “The Catholic Church deplores a double slavery — that of the mind and that of the body. She endeavors to free us of both.”
He refused to let his mind be enslaved by the ignorance and the racism of others. I think this is also a great witness for us today. I think this is important because we need resist every voice of violence and division. Instead, we need to listen to our neighbors’ anger and grief, and we need to try to hear the voice of God. In this moment, we have an opportunity to move from fear to friendship; to stop seeing “others,” and start seeing brothers and sisters. We need to stand together and walk together. We need to build up our families, give hope to our children, and create a culture of virtue and discipline.
–You yourself are “migrant” in the United States. Latin Americans are another major migration hub in the U.S. Is there a difference between racism and discrimination against the black and Latino population?
-There is certainly some prejudice against Latinos in America. It goes back a long way in some parts of our country. We have seen this prejudice also in recent years in the debates over immigration. But racism against blacks runs deeper, it extends back to the founding of our country, to the “original sin” of slavery. In every case, we need to be defend human dignity. Human rights come from God and the humanity of others is never negotiable. Every person is a child of God, endowed by their Creator with dignity and equality and human rights that must protected and that no one can violate.
–There seems to be a part of Americans who are taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes because, what does the vandalism that is being experienced in the streets have to do with the peaceful defense of racial equality?
-The overwhelming majority of the demonstrations are peaceful, and reflect people’s justifie anger and sorrow and their demand for justice. So, it would be a mistake to focus too much on those who are being violent or trying to use this moment to promote division or hatred. What is encouraging to me is that in these demonstrations we see that people have not yet given up on the dream of America. Millions still believe in the promise of our country’s founders — that America can be a great nation, a land where all men and women are treated equally as children of God; where government protects and promotes our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is a beautiful, hopeful sign out of these demonstrations.
–On Wednesday, the Pope referred to the somewhat contradictory debate in many Western countries in which the sacredness of human life is strongly defended, but sometimes closes his eyes to exclusion and racism. Is this duality lived in the U.S.?
-Actually, the Holy Father was simply stating the truth. He said: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.” I don’t see anybody in the Church who disagrees with this fundamental premise. We all believe that all life is sacred, that every life matters to God. We pray the “Our Father” and that means we are all brothers and sisters. And we are all working for a society where everyone has the same opportunities, no matter what the color of their skin is.