Half a century after the famous civil rights march in Washington, D.C., significant progress towards justice has been made, but some goals remain unmet, said a group of U.S. bishops.
“While we cannot deny the change that has taken place, there remains much to be accomplished,” said members of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.
In a statement marking the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which occurred Aug. 28, 1963, the bishops reflected on the history of African Americans and other minority racial groups in the U.S.
“The March on Washington and the struggle for Civil Rights have brought about significant accomplishments in the past 50 years,” they said, pointing to advancements in opportunity and legal protection, as well as greater racial and cultural diversity among leaders in the public and private sectors.
“However, the Dream of Dr. King and all who marched and worked with him has not yet fully become a reality for many in our country,” they continued.
The Aug. 13 statement was authored by Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; Auxiliary Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of New Orleans; Bishop Gerald Barnes and Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio Del Riego of San Bernardino, Calif.; Bishop Randolph Calvo of Reno; and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap, of Philadelphia.
The authors echoed the words of the U.S. bishops’ 1979 Pastoral Letter on Racism, which stressed the continued need for a “fundamental change” of culture rather than an indifferent “acceptance of the status quo.”
They also referenced the African American bishops’ 1984 Pastoral Letter on Evangelization, which noted that “the cause of justice and social concerns are an essential part of evangelization.”
These concerns are still relevant today, the bishops observed, stressing that Catholics “must never allow other issues to eclipse our belief in the fundamental human dignity of each and every person.”
At the historic march 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, the bishops noted, describing the address as one “which redirected the moral compass of the nation toward concern for the cause of justice” for the marginalized and forgotten in society.
They also commented on the participation of numerous religious, civic and community leaders – including many Catholics – in the civil rights movement.
“Those who participated in the March on Washington came from different races and faith denominations, but were all united for a just cause,” they reflected.
“Seeking to touch and to move the heart of America, they came to the nation’s capital and marched to advance the cause for Civil Rights, calling for an end to segregation. They called attention to the economic disparity that existed for African Americans and other minorities in this country.”
This work continues today, the bishops said, urging the faithful to see the ongoing task “from the perspective of the continued call to hope and in the light of faith.”
They encouraged “continued dialogue and non-violence among people of different races and cultures,” in order to promote “transformative, constructive actions.”
“We join the call for positive action that seeks to end poverty, increase jobs, eliminate racial and class inequality, ensure voting rights, and that provides fair and just opportunities for all,” they said.
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