Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2016 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- If it hopes to bring peace to racial tensions in the U.S., the Catholic Church must be more present in troubled communities and unite with other faiths in doing so, bishops insisted.

“Not every neighborhood and every urban environment is filled with violence,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said. “But when there is violence, there ought to be Catholic presence and prayer and action to raise up the frustration that drives the violence, whether it be lack of economic opportunity, jobs, education, all of those things that are really systemic examples of racism that need to be identified and confronted.” Archbishop Gregory chairs the U.S. bishops’ Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, speaking in a phone call with reporters on Thursday before the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.

The day of prayer was held on Fri., Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit missionary who baptized and ministered to over 300,000 African slaves taken by boat to South America in the 1600s. After several high-profile incidents of racial tension over the summer — fatal shootings of black men by police officers in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge, and shootings of five police officers in Dallas — Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB, called for the Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities.

The purpose of the task force was to help bishops prepare for the day of prayer for peace, and to see how the Church could better address societal problems like racial tension, gun violence, and lack of economic opportunity, Archbishop Kurtz said. “By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities,” he announced at the creation of the task force, which will issue a report on its findings at the bishops’ November General Assembly in Baltimore.

Two members of the task force — Archbishop Gregory, the chair, and Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, a member — encouraged dioceses across the country to pray for healing and peace on Friday. However, prayer is only the beginning of the solution, they insisted. “Prayer is supposed to then inspire and empower and strengthen us to do something,” Bishop Fabre, who also chairs the bishops’ Subcommittee for African-American affairs, stated.  

“It is my hope that the Day of Prayer tomorrow will be precisely that,” he added, where dioceses “will take some action steps toward achieving what we desire.” In taking action to fight racism, Church leaders must do so in person in the communities where such racism exists, the bishops added. Some dioceses have begun initiatives to do this, Archbishop Gregory said, like the Archdiocese of Detroit which organized a prayer demonstration in one of its most violent neighborhoods during a week in August.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore led a prayer walk for peace through the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where over one year ago riots erupted after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, the Catholic Review reported. However, “more must be done,” Archbishop Gregory said. And the Church will also have to work with other Christian denominations and religions. “The issues that we face are not Catholic issues. They are American issues,” he maintained. “We have to work with our interfaith and ecumenical partners so that we present a united front, so it’s not simply the Catholic Church speaking in response to violence and racism, it’s a community of believers and men and women of good will who may not have any particular religious faith that they follow,” the archbishop said.

A new pastoral letter on racism is in the works, the bishops confirmed. Archbishop Kurtz issued a statement on race relations in June of 2015, but a pastoral letter would be the first new such letter by the bishops since “Brothers and Sisters In Us” from 1979. Bishop Fabre noted that the letter is “really in the very beginning stage,” but will cover “how is it that racism manifests itself in society, and maybe even in the Church today.”

He hoped it will offer practical “action steps” for Catholics to “actively work on the healing and reconciliation that is hoped for in this pastoral letter.” “We’ve made a lot of progress but there remains a lot of progress that needs to be made,” the bishop continued. “We thank God for what we have done, and we ask God’s encouragement and God’s strength to face what we need to do.”

The bishops were also asked if they would eventually have to take a stance on the Black Lives Matter movement, and if the issues raised by the movement would be addressed in the pastoral letter. “The Church has always held that all of human life is sacred, and particularly in those areas where human life might be under attack or threatened, we would certainly want to work with others to see that those issues are addressed,” Bishop Fabre said.

“I do know that the Black Lives Matter, it’s still unfolding, and certainly depending on what is it that they embrace and what is it that they want to devote their time and their attention to, I think that the Church would be very interested in discussing working with them to see how together we can assist one another in addressing these needs in the community.”

“While the emphasis on the Black Lives Matter sheds light on the very serious issues that confront African American and people of color in too many situations of violence, it is not in any way contrary to the Church’s position that human life in and of itself has a dignity that must be respected in all circumstances,” Archbishop Gregory stated.