A photo exhibit now available to parishes across the Diocese of Green Bay shines a light on a difficult topic, but one that people of color have to face on a regular basis: racisim.
This week’s Compass features a story about the photo exhibit, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” The project was conceived by Peter Weiss, who serves as Living Justice Advocate for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay. The exhibit’s name comes from a pastoral letter written by the U.S. bishops in November 2018: “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism.”
The topic of racism isn’t one people are able to discuss without anxiety, either because they have been personally hurt by it, witnessed it or perhaps subtly participated in it. Yet, avoiding the discussion, especially in the church community, only serves to perpetuate this sin.
The bishops’ pastoral letter against racism is actually the second letter they’ve written on this topic. The first letter was published in 1977. Individual bishops have also published pastoral letters on racism, with the most recent being written by Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas.
Bishop Seitz’s letter was released on Oct. 13, two months after a gunman entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 22 people, mostly Hispanics. The gunman left messages on social media prior to his attack, saying that his murderous plan was a response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
“This hatred of Latinos is not new,” Bishop Seitz wrote in his pastoral letter, titled “Night Will Be No More.”
“Ancient demons have been reawakened and old wounds opened,” he said. “One of my brother bishops has rightly called racism ‘the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness never fully healed.’ The El Paso matanza (killing) is reminiscent of a long history of importation of hate here in this community, killings, matanzas and racism directed at Latinos, Asians, Blacks, Indigenous, mulattoes and mestizos in the southwest that goes back centuries.”
The rise of neo-nationalist groups around the country has also led to overt, public displays of racism in the last few years. The most egregious took place in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, when a “Unite the Right” rally led to the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed while protesting the rally.
The “Open Wide Our Hearts” pastoral letter was in response to the Unite the Right rally and other incidents of racism. In their letter, the bishops forcefully remind Catholics that racism is an offense against God.
“Every racist act – every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity, or place of origin – is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God,” the bishops state.
The bishops also address the “sin of omission, when individuals, communities and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered.”
The “Open Wide Our Hearts” photo exhibit is a tangible way the local church is trying to address the sin of racism in a gentle, meaningful way.
“What we’ve said all along is that we hope (the exhibit) would start a conversation about issues of race and diversity and inclusion within our Catholic parishes and schools,” Peter Weiss told The Compass last week. “Taking it a further step, I hope it leads to action.”
In order for conversation to begin, parishes and Catholic schools need to take action by contacting the diocese and bringing the exhibit to their communities. From there, discussions can be held about how to combat the sin of racism. To reserve the exhibit, contact Peter Weiss at (920) 272-8321 or [email protected]