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The Jesuit Antiracism Sodality East

“I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24

 

Desolation

Back in 2020, I worked at a Jesuit parish in Chalco, Mexico. For the major feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I attempted to preach against racism and colorism. The day celebrates Mary’s appearance as a morena, to indigenous San Juan Diego, yet it still seemed that darker-skinned people in Mexico enjoyed fewer privileges and less visibility, just as they do in the United States.

I celebrated masses in five locations that day, beginning each homily with a favorite Anthony de Mello story. Here is his original version, from The Song of the Bird:

A preacher put this question to a class of children: “If all the good people were white and all the bad people were black, what color would you be?”

Little Mary Jane replied, “Reverend, I’d be streaky!”

I reversed the colors in my own telling of the story, associating black with good and white with bad. A modest but intentional effort. Many children were present at my third mass, so I simply acted out the story rather than telling it. I set up the question and the kids responded perfectly, as if on cue: Rayado! Yes, they would be streaky.

Things went so well that I decided on the same course for my two evening masses. Both times, I asked the congregation, “If all the good people were black and all the bad people were white, what color would you be?” Both times, the people responded, “Negro.” Wrong answer, but my response was worse. Both times, I continued the homily as if they had chosen the bad color. Didn’t even notice my error.

Why? Weariness? (Five masses!) Language barrier? I don’t think so. At a subconscious level, I associated the color black with badness.

At the parish in Chalco, many people pray aloud when the priest elevates Christ’s body and blood. Quoting Mark’s gospel, they say, “Creo en ti; aumenta mi fe.” I believe; help my unbelief. Caught between racism and antiracism, this is my prayer as well.

Consolation

Watch this inspiring one-minute video from Gonzaga College High School, who in 2017 honored their first African American graduate, John Gabriel Smith ‘54.


This month’s reflection was provided by Sean Toole, SJ, of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Estill, S.C. If you would like to volunteer to provide an upcoming reflection, please contact Sean: stoole@jesuits.org.

The views and opinions expressed in this reflection do not necessarily reflect those of Jesuits USA East.

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