Sisters respond to Charlottesville violence, racism

Two people comfort Joseph Culver of Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12 as he kneels at a late night vigil to pay his respects for a friend injured in a car attack on counter-protesters rallying against white nationalists. (CNS photo/Jim Bourg, Reuters)

President Donald Trump may believe the statements he made in the wake of racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, were "very nice," but many communities of women religious had their own words to say. Here is a selection as of midday August 18.

Some have been edited for length, but links to the full statement are included with each.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the women religious in the United States, not only condemned the hatred and violence, but acknowledged complicity:

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious condemns racism in all its harmful forms whether the violent acts of the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and White Supremacist groups or the daily acts of hate and discrimination that diminish us all.

We grieve with the citizens of Charlottesville and all people of goodwill. We mourn with all who have lost loved ones, with all who live in fear, with all whose dignity is threatened by hate and violence. We lament the racism that continues to afflict our communities and threaten the values that we hold dear.

We acknowledge our own complicity in institutional racism. We commit ourselves to cleanse our hearts and rid our land of this evil. We promise to pray for our country and to continue to use our voice and our energy to build God's beloved community where all are one in Christ Jesus.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, reiterated the LCWR statement and added:

We, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, rooted in Gospel nonviolence and the call to "love our neighbor as our self" (Matthew 12:31) find racism an offense against God. We pray with those who are victims and for those who are in need of awakening to a love that honors all. 

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, one of the first communities to issue a statement, pointed out that while these events have gotten the nation's notice, their causes happen every day:

[We] join with all who are suffering with grief, anger and utter bewilderment at the display of racism, white supremacy and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend.

… Tragedies like this one continue to spotlight our society's institutionalized structural racism. While this latest incident has caught the attention of our nation, we know that every day people of color in this country feel threatened by its impact. Our ongoing failure to see ourselves and all of creation as one perpetuates our separation; our sense of "we" and "they" only serves to diminish all of us.

... May this grieving time call us to search our hearts and ask, what are the ways in which we perpetuate this culture of violence and fear? What actions will we take in response? What truths will we speak to contribute to dialogue that brings unity, peace and comfort to those who are afraid?

We must continue to act.

The Adrian Dominicans also issued a statement right away, saying they deplored the white supremacist terrorism:

Hatred and bigotry are anathema to civil discourse, the rule of law and the ideals of our democracy. As women of faith, we add our voice to those calling for an end to racist violence in our country and pray that we awaken to the loving imperative of our being created equal in the image of God.

The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary pointed out that the idea that racial inequality has been eradicated is not only a false perception, but harms us all:

… The wounds of racism are deeply embedded within the history of our nation. However, public discussion of racism in the United States has often been invalidated in recent years by the false perception that the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and the election of the first black president of the United States had largely eradicated racial inequality. The reality is that racism is alive and well. It continues to be manifested both in overt ways — as we saw in Charlottesville this past weekend — and in subtle, pervasive ways including economic inequality, disparities in health care and education, violence within the criminal justice system and the privilege afforded to white people living in a racist society. The perpetuation of this system harms us as all and deprives us of the richness that our uniqueness and diversity provide.

It's also important to acknowledge the way in which those who openly espouse racial hatred have been emboldened in recent months by both the rhetoric and policies of our elected officials. We call upon them to explicitly and publicly condemn white supremacy and those organizations that seek to legitimize and advance it. We specifically call upon President Trump to remove supporters of white-supremacist ideology from his cabinet and to stand against the racist policies they propose.

The Dominican Sisters Conference not only denounced the racial hatred and called it "terrorism," but directly called out Trump's role in perpetuating it:

… As Christians and as Americans we are deeply grieved, outraged and troubled by the President's most recent actions which clearly demonstrate that he is leading the country down a path of increasing hatred and violence. We need to call this violence for what it is and acknowledge that different forms of white supremacy have led to a perpetuation of inequality economically, socially, politically, in education, in health care, and legally under the law for African Americans since 1619. Hate groups such as the KKK have no place in American society.

Under the banner of free speech, hate speech is nothing more than hate and is not American. It is against everything we value as Americans, whether Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist. We call on President Trump to reconsider his recent statements that have contributed to division and violent confrontation.

We call upon the members of Congress to exercise their constitutional authority to demand that the President reverse course immediately and stand against every expression of hatred, bigotry, and violence.

… We cannot remain silent for silence is consent. As Dominicans, we hearken to the words of our Dominican Saint Catherine of Siena, "Preach the truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world!"

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston recommitted themselves to unity and reconciliation:

… The alarming growth and increased activities of various hate groups throughout our country are contrary to both our religious and civic values. We renew our commitment to our charism of unity and reconciliation, and we stand in solidarity with all those who condemn acts of hatred and violence fueled by racism or any form of intolerance.

The Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth reminded us that fighting violence with violence only hurts more people:

[We] stand in solidarity and prayer with all people of our nation and world who believe that violence and hateful speech toward others cannot be tolerated or condoned.  The call of the Sisters of Charity is to make God's love known in the world, to treat all people with respect.

We condemn the recent acts of violence and racism that occurred in Charlottesville and reject the brutality that led to the death of an innocent bystander and two Virginia State Troopers and injured many.  Our prayers call to a loving God to change the hearts of those who perpetuate violence.  As so appropriately proclaimed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

The condemnation wasn't limited to congregations based in the United States. The Leadership Team of Blessed Sacrament (USA) Province, Congregation de Notre-Dame of Montreal, said:

As Sisters of the Congregation de Notre-Dame, we affirm that Jesus Christ calls us to humanize our relationships, to act in love and compassion. In union with the people of Charlottesville and people of good will everywhere, we grieve over the victims of the recent violence, and we pray that all our hearts be turned from the racism that inspired the attacks to a resolve to build the "beloved community" among us.

Joining them were the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary of the U.S.-Ontario Province:

… We appreciate the leadership shown by the statements of the mayor and governor in response to the event.

We call on our president, and all leaders, to exert moral leadership by refraining from hateful and discriminatory speech and actions.

We join our prayers with those of other concerned citizens and members of many faiths in opposition to this violent action, so contrary to the values of our nation. We urge all to work for the healing and reconciliation taught and lived by Jesus and so necessary for peace and justice in our country. 

Other communities adding their voices included the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, New York, who said the words of elected leaders matter:

... As women of faith, we call upon our elected leaders at all government levels to speak out against the racism and hatred that so tragically evidenced itself in Charlottesville. We also call upon religious leaders of all faiths as well as civic leaders to raise their voices in speaking out against white supremacy, which undermines the principles of our democracy.

Finally, we call upon our elected leaders to be accountable for their words and actions and to take responsibility for preserving and maintaining the unity and moral values of this country.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania decried the rise of hate groups:

... We are deeply troubled by the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia; we grieve with the community of Charlottesville and the families of the victims.

The alarming growth and increased activities of various hate groups throughout our country are contrary to both our religious and civic values. 

And finally, the Sisters of St. Anne, St. Marie Province, reminded us to focus on the silence after the yelling stops:

... The cacophony of this outcry [against violent and hateful rhetoric] needs to permeate our society providing real openings for conversion of heart to the Gospel messages of acceptance and celebration of all of God's people. In the silence that will follow as it always does we must continue the work of healing and conversion. This is the real challenge for all of us. Upholding the movements against division of people on any level, is in the everyday choices we make; how we know our neighbors, how we share our own values about the sacredness of all life and the gifts of reason and conscience, and how we pass that onto younger generations. Our government is a human construct that should keep all people safe and free to pursue a happiness that permeates society.  We believe Justice to be the fruit of right relationships where the dignity and holiness of every individual is respected. Not just in word but most importantly in deed.

The Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Michigan, called racism an affliction upon our land:

... We mourn with those who have lost loved ones, with all who live in fear, and with all whose dignity is threatened by hate and violence.

The Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids stand against harmful rhetoric and actions that result in fear and evoke hatred in our cities and neighborhoods. Racism afflicts our country. Any conversation or activity that contributes to division, hatred, violence, or disrespect of another human being hurts all of us as a human family. We pray that people relate to each other with dignity and respect.

The National Black Sisters' Conference, founded in 1968 to address the need for the Catholic Church in America to develop greater relevancy for black Catholics, said it would continue to speak out and stand at the forefront of the struggle for peace and justice:

Standing in solidarity with the grieving people of Charlottesville, West Virginia, and those throughout the world, The National Black Sisters' Conference offer condolence. The recent event in Charlottesville once again spotlighted the racism, bigotry and violence that still linger on in the United States and throughout the world. The National Black Sisters' Conference is not only saddened by this event but have concerns about the negative message of the white nationalists group's protest march.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

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