by Rev. John T. Pawlikowski OSM Ph.D.
The attack on the mosque and the large gathering of white nationalists in Virginia this past August are stark reminders of the persistence of hatred in contemporary American society. Such profound disregard for the basic dignity of all people proclaimed in the II Vatican Council's historic Declaration on Religious Liberty presents the Catholic community in this country with a stark challenge. We can assume a position of bystanders and ignore this reality or we can become what the organization FACING HISTORY AND OURSELVES terms "Upstanders." I believe we have only one option if we are to be faithful to the example Jesus provided us during his public ministry. When he encountered people who were despised by the majority in his day such as tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, rural people he first affirmed their continuing dignity despite the sins that some of them had committed. We have little choice but to follow Jesus' example in our day as we witness continued manifestations of social hatred.
Hatred is a pernicious cancer that can spread rapidly in human society. It demands a response whenever it appears. And regrettably it has spread significantly in recent years in various forms such as anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia and homophobia. American Catholics, and all decent people in our society, need to become a community of Upstanders in active opposition to each manifestation of this disease. This must include spoken and written protests, anti-hatred demonstrations and community education .Our Catholic record on previous examples of social discrimination such as women's suffrage and the racist treatment of African Americans was far from stellar. Now it must become exemplary if we are faithfully to claim the title of Catholic. As we take up our charge we need to recall that when hatred is allowed to grow unopposed it can eventually consume all of us.
As the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller put it in a famous poem during the Nazi era "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out...Because I was not a Socialist; Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out...Because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out...Because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me...and there was no one left to speak for me."