The Jesuit Antiracism Sodality East

“… so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.”
– Romans 12:5

 

Desolation

Sr. Helen Cole, SSJ

“I have come here in part because in the invitation I am told that this beautiful city is confronting very serious problems, problems of violence, racism and discrimination and you go on and on and on and on.” These words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu were part of his address at Saint Joseph’s University in 2008. The Archbishop’s words came to me as I sat in a pew in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, New Jersey, on the last day of the year 2021. His address calling us to be collaborators and co-workers with God in the work of racial reconciliation were present as I saw a young boy settle into the front row of the cathedral seats. He, along with his mother, had come to mourn the loss of his 19-year-old brother whose life was taken by gun violence on the streets of that “city invincible,” as the poet Walt Whitman once called Camden.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

It has become my custom on the last day of the year to pray for a while at the “vigil” for murder victims in Camden. It is usually held over a day or two due to the fact the event dedicates one hour of remembrance for each person who was killed. There is no distinction made regarding the circumstances of the passing of each person, just a straightforward valuing of every single life lost. The event has become an annual examen since my regency in Camden over 25 years ago when the vigil was first organized by members of the Jesuit Urban Service Team and is continued by Sr. Helen Cole, SSJ, and the Cathedral Parish.

A very strange mix of both desolation and consolation came to me as I prayed in that cathedral and as I joined that boy and his mother remembering the life of his brother. A life ironically full of promise yet plagued by tragedy and snuffed out by violence. My desolation at the reality of so many young men of color who are disproportionately impacted by violence is real. The words of the prophetic archbishop, the pain of the boy and his mother in the cathedral and the life of his deceased brother were my meditation of how we still live in an apartheid-like system constructed around race. This pervasive system is created by the many choices we make that eliminate the assurance of health and wholeness for a young man such as the one who died on the streets of Camden. This is my desolation.

Consolation

But because the system is created by our choices there exists the opportunity for me and others to seek the grace to live intentionally making new choices that deconstruct those racist systems. The shared grief and the hope for healing in the cathedral at the end of each year is my consolation. The simple valuing of every life is a catalyst for action. A listening heart and the mercy of God’s grace are some of my resources that put me on path toward antiracism and, hopefully, the undoing of racist systems. This is my consolation.

This year 20 lives were lost in Camden so the vigil was less than a day. A marked improvement from years past. Across the river in what Archbishop Tutu called “this beautiful city” of Philadelphia 561 lives were taken by violence. The two cities have made markedly different choices about policing and community-building. I pray that I may be a part of that one body in Christ, examen-ing and making choices that deconstruct racism and choose life over death.

This month’s reflection was provided by Dan Joyce, SJ, of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. If you would like to volunteer to provide next month’s 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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