In the fight against racism (or abortion or human trafficking or pornography) it’s essential to remember that everyone has a different role to play. St. Paul speaks of the different members of the body of Christ all working together, with no shame for the “less honorable” parts, and the saints show that through their refusal to waste time worrying what other people were doing. As we seek our role in the fight for justice, may the witness of these saints remind us that our best work will be done in the center of God’s will.
Blessed Miguel Gómez Loza (1888-1928) was a young lawyer who established a national congress for Catholic workers in Mexico in the middle of the Mexican Revolution. He spent most of his time organizing protests against the government, for which he was arrested at least 58 times. He served as legal counsel to many student protestors in the lead-up to the Cristero War and led an economic boycott in protest of anti-Church laws. When the Union Popular entered into the war against Calles, Gómez was made civil chief of his area (leading the people and encouraging the troops while not taking up arms), then governor of Jalisco. He served as governor for a year before he was discovered and martyred.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925) is best known for hiking, practical jokes, and direct service to the poor. But this son of a senator-turned-ambassador was just as political as his father, regularly attending anti-fascist rallies. Though he hated violence (and was such a calming presence that demonstrations were generally at their calmest wherever he was) he wasn’t afraid to defend himself when physically attacked by fascists. He was arrested on multiple occasions, once for defending himself when the police became violent at a Church-sponsored demonstration. Still, he continued to attend the protests; when complimented on his courage, he replied, “One ought to go and one does. It is not they who suffer violence who should fear it, but those who practice it.” Frassati died at 24, a political activist whose life was filled with daily Mass, personal prayer, and direct service to the poor.
St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947) is best known for her forgiveness of the slavers who kidnapped her and sold her to cruel masters who beat and ritually scarred her. But she is a powerful advocate for social reform as well. Bakhita was sold from one master to another before finding herself in Italy, where the Gospel was proclaimed to her for the first time. When Bakhita’s mistress returned and demanded that the enslaved woman leave with her, Bakhita refused. She was a catechumen and would not leave until she had been baptized. The case ultimately went to the courts, which decided that Bakhita (and others like her) had been free from the moment she set foot in Italy. In fighting for justice for herself, she put the final nail into the coffin of publicly-accepted slavery in Italy.
Venerable Satoko Kitahara (1929-1958) had no intention of giving up her entire life to live in solidarity with the poor. A Japanese convert, she was told of a group of children who picked though garbage to earn a living. Shocked at their situation, the young aristocrat invited some of them to come to her parents’ home occasionally for piano lessons and tutoring. Before long, Satoko realized that this patronizing attempt to save the children wasn’t enough. “I had thought I was a great Christian because I condescended to dole out some free time, helping Ants children with their homework! … It hit me now. There was only one way to help those ragpicker children: become a ragpicker like them!” So she did, eventually leaving her comfortable home to live among the poorest of the poor. She didn’t reform their community or lobby for more humanitarian laws; she just listened to the tug of her conscience telling her that to love, she had to live among those she loved. She died at 28, the hero of a community she had served merely by being present to them.
Servant of God Thea Bowman (1937-1990) was a Protestant girl in Mississippi when she converted to Catholicism through the witness of those at her Catholic school. But even after she became a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, she experienced racism within the Catholic Church. She chose to fight for her people by educating American Catholics on Black culture and the Black Catholic experience, becoming a trusted adviser to the United States Bishops. She was an evangelist in the Black community, both in the United States and in Africa, and a profound witness of the gift diversity is within the Church. One historian said of her, “Arguably no person in recent memory did more to resist and transform the sad legacy of segregation and racism in the Catholic Church than Thea Bowman … who inspired millions with her singing and message of God’s love for all races and faiths.”