Below is a letter that I wrote to David Zubik, the Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, about my frustration in the Church’s response to the Parkland shooting – more specifically the Church’s response to the March for Our Lives protest. I never heard back from the Bishop. So now I’m following through with my promise, and my conscience, and spreading the letter via various media forms. Please share if you feel it is appropriate.
Dear Bishop Zubik,
There are moments throughout the life of a community, of individuals that tear the rug out from under one’s sense of security, familiarity, and faith. These moments are often characterized with fear, confusion, and yet hope for the moments that follow. We are experiencing one of those moments right now. I would like to describe a few of these moment in the history of the human story. Moments when the Church was directly affected or stood with those experiencing adversity.
In the year 41 A.D. the Roman Emperor Claudius expelled the Jewish community from Rome. This expulsion directly affected the Jewish diaspora, as well as the nascent Christian community. The lives of the Jewish and Christian communities were thrown into fear as they faced persecution, death, and senseless violence. The Church was there. Paul went to Corinth and encouraged banding together. The young Church ministered to the affected communities by standing in solidarity with their Jewish sisters and brothers. Prophetic witness to a faith that walked the talk.
In 1891, in the midst of an industrial revolution and a global depression, workers all over the world were working death wages for hours on end and nationalism was escalating, causing divisions to rise between socio-economic classes, nationalities, and faiths. These factors took away the lives of parents, cut short lives of child laborers, and tore families apart. As despair sunk in the hope for moments to come faded. The Church was there. Due in large part to the Church’s organizing work the tide began to shift. Pope Leo XIII spoke of seeing people “meeting together for discussion, for the promotion of united action.” By doing so the Church called to action workers, community leaders, and governments who all practiced different faiths. Though these communities did not agree on all their principles and beliefs they found a cause of unity, a moment of hope to take on a system that took lives and disregarded human dignity and worth.
In the 60’s and 70’s this country was in the midst of social upheaval as had not been seen since the civil war. The tumult was due in large part to the blatant racism embodied in laws and in violence toward others who were seen as “other”. Civil rights was an issue that tore through communities, dividing families, schools, and churches. That division was equally present in the Catholic community. Many priests and bishops were told not to participate in the rallies or marches – even more clergy dissuaded their parishioners from taking part. And yet there are images and recordings of brave Catholic faithful who followed their conscience and walked arm-in-arm with individuals from varied communities. These groups disagreed on many of their beliefs except civil rights. They found a moment of unity, a point to unite on and build society for the common good. I write to you now because such a moment of unity is coalescing.
The recent school shooting in Parkland, Fl has brought to national attention, such as has not happened before, the issue of gun violence in schools. For years these incidents have happened. For years communities have had the rug pulled out from under their feet – sowing fear and confusion, loss that is unacceptable. This shooting, in particular, has created a moment in the milieu of our country; a milieu often characterized with apathy and lost hope because these events have become so routine. Countless communities are binding together on a moment of unity, a particular issue that they share the same hope for.
I am disappointed. No, I am hurt. I feel as though my voice, my students’ voices, and my conscience – formed in faith – have been silenced. The National Catholic Education Association, many of the US Bishops, and other faith “leaders” denounced participation in the March for Our Lives and the walkouts around the country. The denouncers claimed that the movement has become tainted by organizations who do not share all of our Catholic values. Then I ask this question: What movement, what group, what people who are not Catholic have ever agreed with all our Catholic values? The march, the walkout, and the movement as a whole is a pro-life movement – protecting the lives of our children, our future.
I am confused, wounded, and disappointed in this response. I see the faces of the student protesters and of those gunned down in the school and I see the face of Christ. Prayers alone are not adequate. Prayer is that which gives fuel for action and sustains our action. This is a moment of intersection, a moment of unity. This doesn’t mean we tacitly accept the actions and stances of others we don’t agree with. Rather, we recognize there is a specific truth being addressed and we join hands. For example: The March for Life, an annual protest for the lives of unborn children, is attended by tens of thousands of people. Not all of these people are Catholic. Not all of these people share the same beliefs that Catholics hold. Even still Catholic schools, parishes, and dioceses send thousands of people to the March for Life each year. For a particular moment we put aside other differences and stand together to speak out for some of the most vulnerable.
Isn’t there enough division in our society as it is? Isn’t dis-unity the greatest stumbling block in the Christian story? If we recognize moments like the Parkland shooting to join hands across boundaries suddenly the others become less “other”. Empathy, compassion, and hope begin to grow. The common good begins to flourish as we step out of our ivory towers and heed Pope Francis’ call to encounter and accompany each other. Isn’t that good?
At his most recent meeting with a group of 300 young people, People Francis encouraged the fire that young people carry in their spirits. He prompted them saying, “It is up to you not to keep quiet…even in the face of corrupt or silent elders.” Francis’ encouragement is what young people are craving. I am reminded that silence and veiled discouragement is complicity.
Brother, I write to you out of love and respect for the message of hope that the Church – the community of believers – strives to promulgate. I write to you because I am a young person who feels let down and incensed by the response the institutional Church has given – a response that boils down to: your life isn’t worth it. I write to you because I will not be silenced; I will not defy my conscience, formed in prayer, reflection, and faith.
Young people are crying out. Hear us. Listen to our dreams, hopes, desires and encourage us when we speak out against injustice; lest the Church crumble. Moving forward, I will continue to be engaged and strive to be aware of injustices. You will continue to hear from me, as I humbly and hope-filled-ly submit my thoughts to you. Respectfully, I ask for you response. Perhaps there are other reasons for the actions taken by the diocese that I am not aware of. Please convey them to the faithful. When it’s an issue regarding our lives we deserve to know.
In Peace & Solidarity,