The bishops of the United States are urging Catholics to pray and fast for an end to racism on Friday, following the unrest in Wisconsin this week.
“On this Friday’s anniversary, in the midst of our country’s ongoing racial unrest, we restate our commitment to peacefully seeking racial justice,” said Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the anti-racism committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference, on Thursday.
Friday, August 28, marks the 57th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Bishop Fabre asked Catholics to pray and fast for an end to racism, either on Friday or on September 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver—a Spanish priest and abolitionist who ministered to African slaves in 17th-century South America.
“We reiterate the value of those whose human life and dignity in this country are marginalized through racism and our need to fight for them including the unborn,” he said.
A police shooting of an African-American man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday set off peaceful protests and violent riots this week in the town.Armed groups also reportedly gathered in the town to guard businesses from being looted or vandalized.
Protests and riots have broken out in several other cities in the past several months, after the killings of African-Americans including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
Jacob Blake, 29 years old, was shot by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday afternoon after he was reportedly tased by police and was walking away from officers toward a car door. As he opened the door and leaned inside, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his gun seven times at Blake from behind. Another officer stood behind him and aimed his gun at Blake.
Blake was taken to a Milwaukee-area hospital; he is paralyzed from the waist down, his family’s lawyer told reporters this week.
Unrest ensued in Kenosha, with peaceful protests occurring and rioters vandalizing and burning store fronts. One resident and staffer at St. James parish in downtown Kenosha told CNA that the church was vandalized but sustained no serious damage. The staffer reported that many participants in the protests and riots were coming in from out-of-town.
Armed groups of citizens also assembled in the town to stand guard outside businesses. On Tuesday night, a gunman killed two people and injured a third.
The suspect, 17 year-old white male Kyle Rittenhouse who traveled to Kenosha from Illinois to purportedly guard businesses and people in the unrest, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with first-degree intentional homicide. Video showed a man alleged to be Rittenhouse running down the street with a rifle with several people in pursuit; he fell, turned around, and fired the rifle at his pursuers.
Bishop Fabre asked Catholics to pray and fast, either by assisting at Mass in reparation for sins of racism, by praying the rosary, or by asking for the intercession of saints who fought racism in their lifetimes, such as St. Katharine Drexel or St. Peter Claver.
“We must continue to engage the battle against the current evils of our society and in the words of Dr. King, refuse to believe ‘that the bank of justice is bankrupt,’” Bishop Fabre said.
He cited King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, where the civil rights icon said that the Declaration of Independence was a “promissory note” that “all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Fabre said on Thursday, “That promissory note must be satisfied.”
Tens of thousands are expected to march in Washington, D.C. on Friday, to protest racism.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. will also be offering a Mass of Peace and Justice on Friday to commemorate the March on Washington.