In early September, Cynthia Jones-Campbell joined the Archdiocese of LA’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace as the new associate director of its racial relations ministry.
A member of Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo, Jones-Campbell spoke to LA’s priests at the archdiocesan Presbyteral Day gathering in September 2022 alongside her pastor, Father Patrick Mullen, about their experience working together to form a racial justice ministry amid the upheaval that followed the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020.
Jones-Campbell spoke to Angelus about what led her to this new role, her experience on the job so far, and the work that lies ahead.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in this role.
I grew up a “cradle Catholic” from the Midwest in an interfaith family, in a racially diverse community, and attended Catholic school.
I worked in the health care and pharmaceutical/biotech industry where I learned the importance of cultural diversity and its benefits. What does that mean? Cultural diversity is the representation of different cultural and ethnic groups in our society and in our Church.
As a Black Catholic I have had and continue to have an opportunity to learn from others and grow in my faith journey, while traveling to other countries and volunteering in parish ministry, including women’s ministry, divorce healing ministry, and as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at the parish and in the hospital. I am also a board member of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice in Ventura County (CLUE-VC).
After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, I met with my pastor at Padre Serra in Camarillo, Father Patrick Mullen, and we had a conversation about what was going on in the United States at the time. We talked about the impact that event had on me as a mom of color, and about an incident in which my son had been stopped by the police. From there, we had a further discussion about how to present the topic of racism and hurt from a Catholic perspective.
We decided that it would be good to take it from a less confrontational discussion, and part of that was to think about the sorrows of the Blessed Mother: what she went through as a mother with her Son, who was crucified on a cross.
From there, we started talking about how we could have conversations in our parish. It was important to encourage parishioners to listen and learn from individuals of different racial backgrounds to foster empathy and understanding. We set up a discussion with moms of color that was attended by parishioners on Zoom. There were about a hundred participants. It was an interactive discussion with three moms of color (Black, Latina and Asian Indian) sharing their challenges and insights about raising their families in our community and in the Church. That’s how it started. Then we had more events in the parish, including our women’s ministry studying the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2018 letter on race, “Open Wide Our Hearts.”
Parish ministries like Pax Christi also decided to discuss racism using the resource series “Light Through the Darkness of Racism,” and our parish went through the “Just Faith” series on racial inequality. That led to me becoming a member of the parish and family subcommittee of the archdiocese’s Task Force on Racism.
Your position in the archdiocese is actually the result of the work of the racism task force that started a couple of years ago, right? What did that task force accomplish?
One of the things the task force did was present an action plan to the archbishop, with a proposal and an elementary exposition of what should be done and how to do it by September 2022. But to move into action, everything depends on who will commit to organizing and implementing that plan.
The task force identified 16 pilot parishes and seven schools that agreed to assemble Racial Justice Ministries and also proposed to the archbishop creating a full-time position in the Office of Life, Justice and Peace to oversee the development and the progress of a plan of action on racial justice in the archdiocese.
At the archdiocese’s Presbyteral Day gathering in September 2022, each deanery was asked to name a liaison among one of their members to serve as a contact for the new associate director of Racial Relations Ministry. To date there are 19 deanery liaisons.
You started in this role in early September. What have the first two months on the job been like?
They have definitely been busy. I’ve been meeting monthly via Zoom with the liaisons for each of the archdiocese’s 20 deaneries, as well as meeting with parish racial justice ministries and spreading the work about the history and accomplishments of the task force.
The subject of conversations or stories is a recurring theme in talking about difficult subject matter, even in our Catholic schools. For example, in October I participated in a panel discussion at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy where, after watching the documentary on Sister Thea Bowman, “Going Home Like a Shooting Star,” there was a small panel discussion to share the beauty, joy and resilience of Black Catholic faith in preparation for Black Catholic History Month. We discussed and shared our own experiences and faith journey in the Church.
The issue of racism is about the universality of our Church: it impacts all of us. I was just rereading the USCCB’s 1979 letter on racism, “Brothers and Sisters To Us,” which talks about how racism is a sin that divides the human family and blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and that it violates our fundamental human dignity. And so, when we think about this, it is about respecting life and the human dignity of every single person.
Any particular highlights, or favorite parts of the job?
What I like the most about this job is that each day is very different, whether learning about the relationships of parishioners and our priests, as well as working in the Archdiocesan Catholic Center. I’ve also had to manage my own expectations, remembering to move slowly and understand that an immediate bond may not be formed. Building trust takes time and the importance of sharing a meal. It takes stepping outside of my own comfort zone and meeting others in theirs. Even learning to pronounce names correctly, because everyone appreciates being known.
If I had to choose one highlight, it would be the conversations with those that I’ve met through other parish racial justice ministries, about how we can work together to treat others the way that we want to be treated, and to become better listeners by listening to people with our hearts. We are all formed in the image and likeness of God.
The Racial Relations Ministry is brand new to the archdiocese. What’s next?
I’ve been having monthly meetings with the liaisons, setting up a commission on racism along with working with the chief of Mission and Catholic Identity in the Department of Catholic Schools and the senior director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace to cement the work of the task force and give assurance that it is viewed as a ministry for our local Church and has relevance in each parish, school, families, seminaries, and the Archdiocese of LA.
It’s normal for companies to have a mission statement, yet often we don’t have one of our own. My mission statement is to embrace diversity and promote unity with all I interact with, within the body of Christ, sharing our shared faith and purpose.