50 years after a group of Catholic sisters formed Network, the activist group pledges to focus on racial justice

Two years ago, when George Floyd was murdered by a police officer who knelt on his neck for almost 10 minutes, we were confronted with the persistence of racism in our country. Now we find ourselves there once again as we mourn the shooting that targeted black Americans at a Buffalo grocery store. This most recent attack re-raises the urgency of ending white supremacy and racist violence in the United States once and for all.

The past few years have been a time of enormous upheaval, but it would be inaccurate to say that all of these realities are new. Systemic racism and anti-Black violence have simmered beneath the surface for many years, and addressing the continuing injustice and sin of racism is what we are called to do as Catholic justice seekers.

Throughout history, people of faith have emerged in times of turmoil with visions of transformation based on their spiritual practice. Last month, Network (which we usually spell in all caps) celebrated 50 years of working for justice at the federal level. Coming at a time of immense political and social change, our anniversary offered the Network community a tremendous opportunity to learn from the past as we move into the future.

Addressing the persistent injustice and sin of racism is what we are called to do as Catholics seeking justice.

In 1971, in the wake of the revolutionary reforms of the Second Vatican Council, 47 Catholic sisters gathered in Washington, DC, to discuss engaging in political activism for social justice at the federal level. The spirit and passion of these sisters for the advancement of the common good ignited the spark that would become the Catholic Social Justice Network Lobby. Since then, we have had over 350 Catholic sisters on our board and staff, and over 100,000 religious and lay members in all 50 states advocating for just and equitable federal policies, occasionally through of a campaign called “Nuns on the Bus”. Despite the challenges the sisters and their associates have faced over the years, Network’s political ministry has been a constant in Washington, DC. We are honored to carry his legacy into the future while taking into account the new realities of the world around us.

Network members and partner organizations gather outside the White House in Washington, DC, in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Network)

The world is very different since the creation of Network. Every day we can see the unraveling of our social fabric. Demographic and social change is unfolding at a rapid pace and, in part because of harmful and divisive rhetoric, our country is experiencing unprecedented political polarization. However, with these challenges laid bare, we at Network can chart our course for the years to come and know that we are responding with clarity and determination to the signs of the times.

This clarity is one of the main reasons why racial justice has become a central part of Network’s mission. Network staff and board members prayerfully reflected on what our spirit-filled justice seekers have accomplished over the past five decades, and the growing urgency to create a world racially, economically and socially just emerged. We recognize that the structures of systemic racism represent a deep, unhealed wound in the history of the United States and that restorative justice is needed to find reconciliation for what Cardinal Wilton Gregory and others call original sin from America. Until we take this fact into account, we should not be surprised that so many people have lost faith in our religious and secular institutions.

We have more than 100,000 religious and lay members in all 50 states advocating for fair and just federal policies, including through our “Nuns on the Bus” campaign.

The reasons for this lack of trust and the breakdown of the community are obvious. Racial wealth and the income gap continue to cause painful economic instability for too many families, while the ultra-rich continue to get richer. White supremacy and Christian nationalism are becoming even more blatant in local, state, and federal politics. Black and brown people fight for the right to live without constant threats to their safety and well-being. Restrictive election laws are sweeping the nation, putting our democracy at risk. Climate change has pushed our globe into a permanent crisis. These threats are real and disproportionately impact communities of color.

People of faith are called to name and address these glaring inequalities. We must recognize that this is a time when moral leadership is badly needed. As an organization grounded in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, Network accepts its duty to actively and publicly embody a commitment to racial justice and equity. We explore and confront the long legacy of racism in the structures, history and expression of white Christian communities and organizations like ours, and we take responsibility for accountability to communities of color and to all who have been pushed to the sidelines. Of our society.

We realize that this work will not be easy, but inspired by the tenacity of the founding sisters of the Network and our deep spiritual roots in the Gospel, we are determined to move forward towards justice.

This duty includes naming racism within the Catholic Church, where it is too often ignored.A Pew Research Center poll found that 77% of black Catholics in the United States agreed that “opposing racism is essential to what it means to be a Christian”, but only 41% of them had said he had heard a homily on race the previous year. It is an inexcusable failure.

At Network’s recent virtual event with Rev. justice and reparations in our political discourse. We realize that this work will not be easy, but inspired by the tenacity of the founding sisters of the Network and our deep spiritual roots in the Gospel, we are determined to move forward towards justice.

As Pope Francis said the day after the murder of George Floyd, “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism”. Now is the time to heal our society and transform our politics by prioritizing racial justice and the defense of democracy and recognizing their intersection with so many other political issues. This is how we must respond to the call to be Catholic voices on Capitol Hill and in society today.

Justice burns in the hearts of so many people ready to act to honor the human dignity of each individual and to commit themselves to the common good. Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, following in the footsteps of the sisters who founded us, is dedicated to dismantling racism, building the beloved community, and catalyzing the transformational change our country so desperately needs over the past 50 coming years.

Follow the network on Twitter (@NETWORKLobby) or Instagram (@network_lobby).

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