May 31, 2020
Dear Midwest Jesuits, colleagues in mission, alumni and friends,
In the wake of the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd I write with a heavy heart to ask for your prayerful solidarity with the suffering people of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Markoe House Jesuit Community and all those associated with our mission at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School-Twin Cities and St. Thomas More Parish. In the name of Jesus and his gospel, I write also to ask for us to redouble our commitment to dedicate ourselves to eradicating the sin of racism from our minds and hearts and to work with others for truth, healing, reconciliation, and racial justice.
As Mr. Patrick St. Jean, S.J., writes in his eloquent plea in “The Jesuit Post“, “I can’t breathe” is a feeling that too many people of color can identify with as they can find suffocating the often toxic air of prejudice and racism in our society. People who cannot breathe lose their voice. The civil unrest which Minneapolis and other communities around our country are experiencing this week are but symptoms of frustrated people who are afraid and angry, and, too often, find themselves without a voice. We can never condone violence, and at a time like this, we realize more than ever how precious public safety and law and order is. But we must pause and reflect deeply upon the meaning of these tragic outbreaks of violence across our country. Because of our many privileges, we have voice as individuals, as citizens, as a religious community and as a church, affiliated with often powerful institutions. Let us strive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem when it comes to dismantling systemic racism and promoting racial healing in our country. In the midst of these struggles, may we who have a voice find a way, wherever we are, to give voice to the voiceless when basic human dignity and decency are violated.
Sadly, the unrest, violence and fires in Minneapolis-St. Paul have hit close to home. Many businesses just around the corner from the Markoe House community which were previously looted and boarded up were revandalized and set on fire Friday night. Windows in the lobby of Cristo Rey were broken, and a bank next door and other businesses were vandalized and burned. Several nights ago, the home of a family of a student from Cristo Rey burned down completely, placing the daughter in the position of translating for authorities for her parents who do not speak English. Fortunately, Catholic Charities and the school have helped the family relocate to a safe suburb. There also was looting and vandalism blocks away from St. Thomas More and the novitiate in St. Paul on Grand as well as fires and looting not far from the parish at a nearby Target store and other places.
The Midwest Jesuits are in Minneapolis-St. Paul, at Markoe House, Cristo Rey, St. Thomas More and the Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado precisely to be in solidarity with these parts of Minneapolis-St. Paul which are struggling at this time more than ever. Our apostolic community is named after two Jesuits, Fr. Bill Markoe and Fr. John Markoe, born 18 months apart in nearby St. Paul, proud sons of the then St. Luke’s Parish, now St. Thomas More. The two brothers made a private vow early in their Jesuit life to work on behalf of African Americans, which they did throughout their long lives, including during formation, notably in Spokane, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Omaha. While they worked to integrate schools and health care communities and engaged in other forms of pastoral care and advocacy, their ministry was always characterized by “walking the streets” in neighborhoods where African Americans lived. The Markoe brothers were welcomed into the homes of families who were black for literally thousands of visits. In this time when our nation cries out for racial healing and reconciliation, we would do well to follow the example of these two Jesuit giants in faith and service.
Racism harms everyone, no matter what his or her race or ethnicity. The pandemic of COVID-19 is ravaging families and seniors, particularly African American, Native America and Latinx communities, making so many fearful, and causing many to lose hope. People of all races are struggling with illness, death, grieving, confinement, and unemployment. All this is the heavy context of our lives during these fragile times.
Today is Pentecost. Let us pray that God’s sweet Holy Spirit breathes new life in us, individually and collectively, in Minneapolis-St. Paul and throughout these United States of America. Come Holy Spirit
In Christ’s redeeming love,
Brian G. Paulson, SJ
USA Midwest Province