Several friars from the DC area share their thoughts on being a small part of the BLM movement
Although I have participated in the March for Life, I am not one to join public protests or political rallies. However, when the call went out to Catholics to pray together at Lafayette Square for an end to racism and violence, I knew I had to be there. The Catholic clergy of the Archdiocese of Washington led about 400 people in prayer directly across from St John’s Episcopal Church, the site of violence and political grandstanding.
There were bishops, priests and deacons, religious women and men, and lay people with their children, all of whom prayed for justice for every person; protection for our police officers; and an end to systemic racism in our society and in our Church. After praying together for about a half an hour, we sang hymns as we marched to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. There, Bishop Dorsonville gave us his blessing.
Racism has been a part of the American experience since before the nation’s founding. It was important for me to stand in solidarity with our Catholic sisters and brothers of color and pledge not only to march, but to work against racism and promote the human dignity of all people. Christ expects no less than this of me.
-Friar Jude DeAngelo
During my Postulancy, I remember reading a poetic version of a speech given by Pastor Martin Niemoller. I had heard this quote earlier in different versions, since I grew up in a society with a strong communist background. The text goes like this:
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
And there was no one left to speak for me.
In the days after George Floyd’s death, somehow this poem kept recurring in my mind along with the news of protest. Unlike Cain in Scripture, I couldn’t remain indifferent; I am keeper of my black brother and sister. So, I was part of this movement.
Along with Niemoller’s, I add a quote from St. Catherine of Sienna, which I used as a slogan for the march: “Speak the truth in a million voices; it is the silence that kills the world.” Being a friar, committed to live for the values of the Kingdom of God, I believe it is my responsibility to stand for justice, peace, and creation. This belief moved me to break my silence and raise my feeble voice, as if I have a million voices.
The march was peaceful and prayerful. We remembered all the victims of racism and victims of an unjust society in our prayer at newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza. We sang hymns, which caused me to remark that even a protest can be an occasion of praising God!
-Friar Anthony Vattaparambil
So, after missing Thursday and Friday, I went back downtown this afternoon. Unbelievable. I was unable to see the “Black Lives Matter Plaza” street mural, because the protest was easily 10x or more larger.
But what was less than 1/10 the size was the police presence. Even in Lafayette Park, you couldn’t see any police lines, no riot gear. There were a couple police and National Guard blocking streets to keep traffic away from pedestrians, but other than that almost nothing. And the reaction was completely peaceful.
There was anger—the Black Panthers were there—but mostly there was love. One young man was preaching how easy it would be to hate (us white people he meant), but that he was a Christian and so was determined to rise above. He just wanted all of us to truly “see” him. So we chanted how we wanted justice and we said the names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile…
And it occurred to me, kneeling there with my fist raised, surrounded by a crowd that was at least 50% white: after all those names, this was only the third time I was lending my voice to protest the injustice against my black brothers and sisters.
After Trayvon Martin, I did not protest.
After Philandro Castile, I did not protest.
After Michael Brown I did not protest.
After Eric Garner, I did not protest.
Not only did I not protest, I had to Google quite of few of the names,
because I did not know who they were.
For this, I beg forgiveness of Almighty God and from all those who died because I was silent. I need to change. I need to be better. There was a sign today that read, “I understand that I can never understand. But I will stand.” I hope to live up to that.
I’m at the protests now, I hope to go again tomorrow. Where will I be in December? In a month? Society isn’t something out there: a “system,” a “deep state,” “them.” Society is us. And it will change when we change. When I change.
-Friar Paul Schloemer