What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: September 21, 2006
Last Thursday I attended the first meeting of our new Archdiocesan Planning Committee, a group of laity and clergy who are working together with me to help plan for future growth and development within the Archdiocese of Atlanta. I am deeply grateful to these very generous and dedicated members of this local Church as we take up the important conversation of the future expansion of our institutions and initiatives.
As I was waiting for the arrival of the participants, a wonderful gentleman came to the Catholic Center bringing with him a package for Charles Prejean, the director of our Office for Black Catholic Ministry. He showed me the copy of a news article on the centennial remembrance of the Atlanta race riots of 1906. I glanced at the newspaper and then allowed him to go on and to give it to Mr. Prejean. Each diocese where I have lived and served has had a similar deplorable event in its history. Chicago had its race riots at the turn of the last century, as did East Saint Louis, Illinois. At that moment in time, we lived in a society that not only permitted such behavior; it repeatedly justified it as socially defensible. Neither the North nor the South was a safe haven for people of color a century ago.
As I glanced at the article, I gave thanks to God that we have made significant progress in our race relations. We still have much work to realize before we can rejoice together over a totally finished task, but we are far better off today in 2006 than we were in 1906. Time has not healed all the problems, but we are in a better moment.
This past Sunday I celebrated our Jubilee Mass with our youngsters at St. Ann’s Parish in Marietta. I spoke to them about an event that will take place 50 years in the future—our 100th anniversary as a diocese. I fantasized with them about the world that they will lead as adults at that moment in time. I prayed with them that many of the problems that we currently face as a society will have found a just resolution. I challenged them to assume leadership in such a world using our Catholic Faith as the source of their strength and direction.
Young people often have a somewhat skewed appreciation of history. Events that took place yesterday may seem as distant to them as events of a century ago. Yet it is important that our young people be encouraged to remember the defining moments and the heroes and heroines of history who have influenced and improved the world in which we now live. These young people are our hope for a better world, and it is vitally important that they understand the progress that has been made, as well as the work that still remains unfinished.
When we look at the future, we must all be grateful for the work of the past. Indeed, that is why we celebrate Jubilee events. We want to be grateful for all the efforts of the true champions of our heritage who have laid the foundation for the successes that we enjoy today. As we plan for our future, we give thanks for the generosity and the courage of those who were the pioneers in the growth of the Catholic Church in our region and those who led the efforts that have brought greater racial harmony to our community and to our nation. May all those pioneers find us to be their worthy successors.