Red Mass panel explores race relations in the U.S.

November 9, 2021

The annual Red Mass, held Oct. 19, gathered members of the legal profession for a night of prayer and discussion over racism with Bishop Emeritus Curtis John Guillory, S.V.D., of the Diocese of Beaumont and Bishop Brendan Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria. Father Reginald Samuels, vicar for the Catholics of African Descent, moderated the session. (Photo by Rebecca Torrellas/Herald)


HOUSTON — The annual Red Mass gathered members of the legal profession for a night of prayer and discussion over racism. The Mass was held on Oct. 19 at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston. Afterward, attendees walked over to the Cathedral Centre, where Bishop Emeritus Curtis John Guillory, S.V.D., of the Diocese of Beaumont and Bishop Brendan Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria sat down to discuss the topic of race relations in the U.S.

Bishop Guillory, one of 10 African-American Catholic bishops, was the first African-American bishop to head a diocese in Texas. Bishop Cahill holds a Master of Theology degree with a specialization in African-American Catholic Studies from Xavier University in New Orleans.

The discussion was moderated by Father Reginald Samuels, vicar for the Catholics of African Descent and pastor of St. Hyacinth Catholic Church in Deer Park.

Speaking about the pastoral letter written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2018, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” Father Samuels said, “We are here to explore what it means to have God’s love in our society.”

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, who was president of the USCCB when the document was written, said that when drafting the letter, there was a lot of anger between staff and the experts that helped develop the letter.

“The first draft of the letter was so angry — really angry — that we practically had to call a truce,” he said. “We had to go back. And one of the things they decided to add — intensely — is confronting one another with the truth and occasionally with some uncomfortable things.”
Cardinal DiNardo said that at the same time, the letter expanded on Scriptures and the importance of Jesus Christ in all of the issues.

“As that happened, the second draft of the letter fell into place pretty well,” he said. “These are tough issues.”

Bishop Guillory said that, while it may seem to some that continuing to talk about race reconciliation may be divisive, current issues such as cases of the police brutality in George Floyd’s death, anger is still expressed. He added these incidents cause mistrust between police and some minority communities.

“Police have a tough job,” he said. “And some of them do not make the force proud.”

Bishop Guillory said these issues still affect the community, “They are part of us.”

He said the goal of the pastoral letter is in line with the Church’s mission to teach.

“Unfortunately today, for too many Christians, their conscience is informed and transformed not by the Christian teaching, but rather by political affiliation,” he said. “So this letter... is an attempt on the part of the bishops to give us some guidance by which we might deal with these issues and hopefully help bring about, first, a change within ourselves, and then bring about a change in society.”

Bishop Guillory said the letter defines racism as a conscious or unconscious belief in racial superiority.

“Acts that violate justice, and ignorance of the fundamental truth that we are all created equal in the image of God,” he quoted.

He said the letter addresses different races, including African American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic, and “talks about what we can do.”

“The heart of it is conversion,” Bishop Guillory said.

Addressing the lawyers, judges and people of the law in attendance, he said laws can help towards conversion, but it “may not take us there.”

“Racial reconciliation — reconciliation in general — is a matter of the heart,” Bishop Guillory said.

He said that while a lot of progress has been made, there has to be a continuous renewal and humbling.

“We have to examine ourselves,” he said. “How do I look upon someone from a different culture or at someone who is not as educated as I am.”

He said it is essential to “know each others’ history.” He added people need to talk to each other, even though it is painful to bring about conversion, not blaming each other, but with an open heart.

“Go deeper. Our humanity is deeper than culture or customs,” Bishop Guillory said.

Bishop Cahill said bishops could help bring about change by having events such as the Red Mass to discuss the topic.

“Whatever the events are can bring people together (to listen),” he said.

In the Diocese of Victoria, which has just over 65,000 Catholics people, Bishop Cahill said they brought in a play about the first African-American priest, Father Augustus Tolton. The play “Tolton: From Slave to Priest” was performed in several Catholic schools around the diocese. At the conclusion of the performance, the students discussed the racism the priest encountered in his studies and his vocation as a priest.

“We had a discussion about the racism of that time, which led to a discussion of what is going on today,” Bishop Cahill said. “You have people talk about the reality of racism historically... in a sense, it helps acknowledge the present by acknowledging the history.”

Bishop Cahill said dioceses should also have groups that are open to having “uncomfortable conversations,” such as a group started in St. Ignatius of Loyola in Spring.

He added discussions are what bring about conversion.

“It’s hard to talk about race,” he said. “It takes a long time to build that kind of relationship.”

Bishop Guillory said Catholics are blessed to be a faith representative of different cultures and racial groups.

“Every culture has an opportunity to make a contribution,” he said. “(We need to promote) unity and diversity of the one faith as brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Guillory said it is a duty of every Catholic to speak out when there is injustice and to educate others to “help people be informed and form their consciences from a Christian perspective.”

“What we really need to do today — in a group such as this and in our own parishes — is to work with and get our people involved,” he said. “We have to get over this fear of one another. And some of it is understandable.”

Bishop Guillory said we have to be “honest with ourselves and our own history.”

“In the same way, we have to be honest about the history of our own country; the history of the Church,” he said. “Even the Church was not always in a good place. Be honest with the history. Don’t cover it up.”

To read the document “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love” online, visit