Priest: Catholics Need To Reclaim ‘Counter-Culture’ Role, ‘Engage The Structures Of Injustice’
Catholics must use the current political and social climate to reclaim the Church’s original “counter-culture” role and “engage the structures of injustice,” a group of St. Matthias parishioners was told Feb. 11.
Speaking to the group of about 50 parishioners in a special Black History Month program, Fr. Aniedi Okure, executive director of the Africa Faith & Justice Network of Washington, D.C., said that he hopes “that we as a Church community, beyond the local communities, don’t miss this opportunity to engage (the Catholic Church’s) prophetic role.”
“To truly be Christian, not just Catholic, we have to engage the structures of injustice,” he said. “If you look at Jesus, that was his primary task. We cannot truly embrace our faith and be blind to the systemic structures of injustice around us.”
“Millions of people look at what is going on in this country and say no, we are better than that,” Okure said.
Okure was responding to a question posed by St. Matthias’ Fr. Doug Haefner, who asked what Catholic whites who support the Black Lives Matter movement can do to show that support.
“Standing up can be a very powerful statement,” Okure said. “I’m a champion of women’s rights, by that I mean human rights,” he said. Okure said he was not talking about abortion, but “about respecting women as women. When I stand up as a man and talk about human rights in respect to women, I get more traction than if a woman stands up and says the same.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, he said, “is borne out of a traumatic experience. I know that in many places I walk into stores and people follow me around. I walk past people in the street and they clutch their purses.”
“I was in Atlanta, I went into a store to buy something, I was standing in line and there was a white lady who was trying to strike up a chat with me,” Okure said. He said that the woman followed him through the security checkpoint, and the sirens activated. She ran off, he said, but he was detained.
“They patted me down, emptied my pockets, checked my receipt,” he said.
“The experience is rough,” he said. “The experience of feeling that somebody can shoot you just because of what you look like, that somebody can stop you just because of what you look like, can hound you just because of what you look like. The feeling is very gut-wrenching.”
“Barack Obama in the White House hasn’t changed” that mindset, he said.
“When people talk about Black Lives Matter, it is genuine,” he said. “We can’t just dismiss it. It hurts. Validating the experience goes a long way.”
Okure said the diversity of the United States is something that should be celebrated.
“As one who was born and raised in Nigeria, one of the things that makes me love this country is the richness that different people have brought,” he said. “Diversity adds to our spiritual life. If we truly embrace it it connects us to the creator and makes us appreciative and celebratory of life.”
Okure also said people who claim they don’t see the color of people’s skin “need to see an eye doctor.”
“Color is beautiful,” he said. “I see Asians, I see Hispanic cultures and forms. I like colors, I appreciate colors. I like to see the mosaic of God’s creation.”
Okure noted that the demographics of the Catholic Church are changing, skewing to youth and Hispanics.
“Many people in the church are engaged in issues, and that is a wonderful thing,” he said. “In looking at the diversity that is growing, we can engage even more.”
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