by Jose Aguto
Catholic Climate Covenant
On Sunday, July 14, 2019, President Trump made statements about and to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, and -- by inference --people of color in the United States who, or whose ancestors, have immigrated to the United States, that were racist in their sentiment. It may appear unusual for a representative of the Catholic Climate Covenant to respond publicly to statements that might seem unrelated to our mission, but they are of such origin and tenor that silence would mean complicity.
I and many other American people of color have personal experiences of children, teenagers, and adults telling us to “go back to where we came from.” It is a sentiment that seeks to keep people of color and -- ironically --indigenous peoples, as “others,” feeling they are less worthy or unworthy to share the same space, to be on the playground, in the school, or in social and work settings.
This interpersonal sentiment flows into institutional settings and decisions that result in communities of people of color and tribal nations having less opportunity, less employment, dilapidated schools, poorer housing, more food deserts, and more pollution. This sentiment also leads to a situation of environmental injustice where more incinerators, industrial facilities, hazardous waste sites, and landfills are placed in and around the communities of people of color.
That same Sunday, all of the congregants attending Mass in all of the Catholic churches throughout the nation and world, heard this Gospel reading, which contains a message that is the film negative of the words expressed by the president that same day. In a discourse with a scholar, Jesus introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan, lifting up and elaborating upon the Greatest Commandment -- to love God and your neighbor as yourself -- and identifying who is your neighbor. The answer: “The one who treated [the robber’s victim] with mercy.”
Racism is incompatible with the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. The Merriam Webster dictionary calls racism “a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” If you hold this belief, it means you do not love your neighbor as yourself, for you believe people of a different race or races are inherently inferior to you and less worthy of the love you would give to yourself. This belief lacks mercy, compassion, and kindness towards another person. It is explicitly un-Christian.
To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself are known in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew as the Greatest Commandments, which Jesus affirmed by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40) If we seek to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ, then they are cornerstones of the Catholic faith. To harbor, express, support, or act upon racist sentiments is to contradict the greatest commandments, and to walk astray from the path that seeks to follow and find Jesus Christ.
To live our Catholic faith is to care for our neighbors, especially, in these days, the people seeking to migrate to our border -- some driven by the impacts of climate change -- and to oppose and seek solutions for the inhumane ways in which they (especially the children) are being treated at our nation’s borders. To live our Catholic faith is to work shoulder-to-shoulder with people of color and indigenous peoples who seek environmental justice for their people and their ecosystems.
Living our faith also means steadfastly praying to God for the strength to cast the spirit of racism from our hearts and for the transformation of all hearts towards love. May God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible, pour into our hearts with torrents of grace, the life-giving spirit of love, humility, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness of ourselves and our neighbors, in joyful celebration of the Greatest Commandments.