SAMUELS: USCCB pastoral documents are guideposts to eradicate racism

September 22, 2020

Given the problematic racial climate in the United States and the Catholic Church, this is the time to turn to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” This pastoral document can serve as a guidepost on how we are all called to respond to the culture that has been gripped to the core by the sin of racism.

The USCCB published the pastoral letter in November 2018, close to 40 years after “Brothers and Sisters to Us: A Pastoral Letter on Racism in Our Day,” the bishops’ prior 1979 release of a pastoral statement on racism. Through both of these pastoral letters, the Catholic bishops have charged all the Catholic faithful to fight for racial justice and eradicate racism.

In “Open Wide Our Hearts,” the Catholic bishops’ goals are to underscore fundamental Church teachings on the dignity of the human person. The document outlines that all human beings are created in the image of God. Next, the document gives preeminence that the Gospel teaching of Jesus proclaims and inaugurates God’s reign of justice. The pastoral letter goes on to express our unity in Christ, reminding us of our call to care for the poor and marginalized in our community.

In this pastoral letter, the Catholic bishops acknowledge the oppression experienced by African Americans and how that oppression takes away from the dignity in which God has given all people. “Open Wide Our Hearts” emphasizes that racism is a failure of love as well as a failure to recognize the image of God in each and every person. The point of love is underscored throughout the document.

The bishops write: “As Christians, we know it is our duty to love others.” The document goes further to state: “The command of love requires us to make room for others in our hearts. It means that we are indeed our brother’s keeper.”

The bishop’s pastoral letter gives an overall picture of how we are called to view racism’s intricacies. First, the document takes into account the historical violence, not only in the African-American life but also in the Native-American and Hispanic-American experience.

“Open Wide Our Hearts” challenges Catholics to view their own cultural values and norms that evaluate individuals according to skin color and heritage. Moreover, in this pastoral letter, the bishops acknowledge the Church’s own role and complicity in past failures and the lack of dealing with racial injustice over the centuries in the United States.

The fight for racial justice and the eradication of racism can only be accomplished through prayer, acknowledgment and intentional actions.

The Catholic bishops have given us all a way to move forward in our journey to peace. I pray that we can take the time to review the document “Open Wide Our Hearts” and glean from this document a way in which we can move forward in our fight for justice and the end of racism.

The document is available online at

In our charge of eradicating racism and building racial justice, as Catholics, we all have to be diligent and not give up when statements of pain and hurt are expressed.

The bishops write: “We cannot, therefore, look upon the progress against racism in recent decades and conclude that our current situation meets the standard of justice. In fact, God demands what is right and just.”

Recall that before his death, Christ prayed, “May they all be one” John 17:21.

Father Reginald Samuels is the Vicar for Catholics of African Descent in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.