The events of the past few months, where the reality of racism has been thrown into the spotlight, have highlighted the urgent need to tackle prejudice in the world and to promote the dignity of every person. In his message for World Communications Day 2020, Pope Francis reminded us that, ‘Every human story has an irrepressible dignity.’
To sustain this moment of story-telling and listening, we invited four individuals to share openly and frankly their experiences of being Black and Catholic. The result is a video that combines their stories. Rev Paschal Uche is a Deacon and will soon be ordained as the first British-born black priest in the Diocese of Brentwood. Kamara Katama is a lay chaplain at a Catholic Sixth Form College in South London. Caroline King is an Executive Head teacher in the London Borough of Hackney, with responsibility for two primary schools. Fr Joseph Okoro is Assistant Priest at Holy Rood Church, Watford and was ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Westminster three years ago.
Rev Paschal shared his fear that the Catholic Church is failing to keep young Black people: ‘The Catholic Church bleeds out young, particularly black people, to either different churches, or no faith at all, precisely because young Black people may have not found a home in the Catholic Church.’
Kamara spoke about racism in the context of God’s creation: ‘If I think of myself as fearfully and wonderfully made and made in the image and likeness of God, that each hair on my head is counted, how can I then hate my hair? How can I then feel that I’m stupid because of the colour of my skin or unattractive because of the colour of my skin?’
Caroline discussed how people can contribute to conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement in a meaningful way: ‘When we talk about Black lives matter, we shouldn’t be differentiating between which black lives matter ... We need to think about the difference between, are we hearing that Black lives matter? Or are we listening to that narrative?’
Fr Joseph described the relationship between action and human dignity: ‘When rhetoric is translated into concrete actions, we can do better at creating a society where every life not only matters, but is accorded equal dignity and opportunity.’
Listening to these stories, Bishop Paul McAleenan said:
‘Some events have the capacity to focus our minds. Frequently, however, what we considered to be of vital importance in a particular moment is forgotten or pushed aside as subsequent events grab the news headlines. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May 2020, and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations which followed, held our attention for several days.
‘What was revealed must not slip from our minds.
‘To end unjust discrimination, to strive for equality of opportunity and equal treatment before the law, a recognition of the injustices suffered by members of the Black community and the need to make everyone feel welcome and accepted in the Church must be kept firmly on the agenda by the Catholic community.
‘In this video four young Black Catholics living in London speak openly and honestly. Their words and demeanour are an appeal for everyone to listen. I thank them for laying before us personal experiences and thoughts from which we can learn. I ask you to listen to them, deeply. Attentive and sincere listening calls for a willingness to hear, to respond, and often requires a change of attitude.’