Bridging a Racial Divide

America Magazine

May 16, 2016 Issue

The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter movement

When I was a senior at Quigley Preparatory Seminary studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago, I was the only person of color in my class of several hundred seminarians. A group of us saw the film version of Harper Lee’s brilliant novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. It is the story of Tom Robinson, set in Maycomb, Ala., during the Great Depression. Tom, an upright and honest, innocent black man is falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. He is defended by an equally upright and honest white attorney, Atticus Finch. Predictably, the all-white jury finds Tom “guilty,” though he is, in fact, innocent; and he is killed while “attempting to run from the police” during the appeal process.

In our discussion after this extraordinary film, one of my classmates said his father had taught him that “all you need to know about the relationship between people of different races is this: ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ This is simply the law of nature. This is why the Archdiocese of Chicago has Polish parishes, Irish parishes, German parishes, Italian Parishes and black parishes. People of similar backgrounds want to live, work and worship with their own kind!” He said nothing about the death of Tom Robinson, as if his life did not matter. I have never forgotten that conversation.

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