(Alexia Ayuk is studying accounting and operations management and business analytics at the University of Maryland and is a member of St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg. She is a 2019 graduate of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, where she received a Prudential Spirit of Community Award, one of the nation’s top volunteer honors for youth, for working with Good Counsel classmates in starting a nonprofit organization called “A Book for My Birthday” that has provided more than 20,000 books to schools serving children in low-income communities and children in homeless shelters.)

In the wake of the recent Mass marking the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we Catholics must remember our call to live like Jesus. Our Savior was innocent, killed because of it, yet offered Himself for those of us who are guilty. 

Despite feelings that we may lack guilt or actions in sins of racism, I was inspired by the message this past Sunday from Father Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest who serves as the director of for youth and the young adult ministries in the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, who said, “If you are a Christian, that means we carry each other's burdens -- willingly. And we give of ourselves willingly. And we make reparation by offering prayers to those who have been abused... for doing penances for those who have experienced injustice... we not only get to do that, we have to do that.” 

This is our life’s goal and mission -- to truly live in Jesus’s image and to give glory to His name.

I understand the disgust and anger that people may feel at instances of violent riots and looting that marred the mostly peaceful demonstrations across the country against racial injustice and police brutality. But do those scattered actions invalidate the meaning of what most protesters were trying to convey? 

If God is so willing to forgive us for our anger, faults, and flaws, shouldn’t we also forgive our neighbors? Because we are made in God’s image, we have a dignity that cannot ever be taken away from us. It is a truth we all hold and know to be critical to our existence. Our human dignity can’t be destroyed, despite our past actions and grievances against our neighbors or even our perceived enemies. We are flawed and need to recognize our own faults before noting the transgressions of others. 

Even when we disagree with someone else, we must recognize their dignity. And if a group of our brethren is voicing this problem that makes them feel as though the dignity of their humanity is being violated, we must seek to build bridges and work together to achieve equality and peace.

We are all worth loving, no matter the circumstances.

You may feel as though it is not necessary to support the Black Lives Matter movement because you already support justice for all groups of people. The important distinction to make is asking oneself  what our nation’s history and its current reality show us, that African Americans in our country continue to be impacted by a pervasive inequality in many aspects of life. That is not to say that injustices committed against white people do not matter. Instead, it is asking us to recognize ongoing societal unfairness against people of color. When we say “All Lives Matter,” we must also condemn and work to end the social structures causing persistent societal inequality for minorities. 

This is not to forget the good work of those in the police force and government, but it is important to advocate for the marginalized and bring light to the issue of police brutality in our country. Recognizing problems in our community is just a step. After condemning injustice, ending it is our great challenge. 

Where we falter on every side of the racial justice issue as a country is understanding how best to mobilize and use our efforts by working together. I feel that in our current political discourse, we live in a fantasy world of our own ideas. Instead of regarding ourselves as the only right ones, we are more likely to make progress on our goals when we respect each other first. When we believe that justice can only be found in our way, we throw in the towel. When we see someone else as just the oppressor or aggressor and not more than that, we fail.

One of the reasons why I think it is important to talk about our different values and beliefs across the spectrum is that engagement can help us discover where we all can find common ground and take action to bring about a greater good. There is value in that conversation where we all can learn how not to just hear, but to listen to one another.

Faith-based activism involves more than just an acknowledgement of injustice, it means taking action to stop it. It is not rooted in condemning an organization of people attempting to stand up for themselves. I could argue how violent protests represented a small minority of the demonstrations or blame others, but I won’t. It is not productive to any of our goals. We have to ask ourselves why would they think that is the only way they believe they can be heard. The Lord hears the cries of the poor, as should we. That question should pain us. Hurt us. And make us feel that regardless of any acts, our brethren are crying out in pain for a problem that continues.

We must not ignore the history of racism in our country that has made progress extremely difficult for African Americans. We can look not only at this but other examples like the mass incarceration of African Americans to understand their pain. Yet, let me make something clear that may have gotten lost in the message of this movement: white people are not the problem, injustice is. There are good and bad people from different backgrounds all over the world. The problem is in silence and in not standing up for the persecuted, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

We all may disagree on how, but we must not disagree on what. We may not be the cause of injustice, but we must do something about it. It doesn’t have to be your fault. We must live out the creed not only in situations where we are comfortable, but in the most uncomfortable moments of our lives.

The beauty of Catholicism, and Christianity similarly, is that it means universal. Our message stands for more than one group of people, or one skin tone or one country. It has to stand for coming together to protect our neighbors and to be loving.

We must learn from each other. Luckily, we are blessed to be a part of a community of diverse voices. And that is how progress is made, by inviting disagreement, starting with respect and love, and finding tangible ways to seek a resolution. So, reach out to your neighbors, and let’s be the facilitators of justice.

I would additionally urge everyone to utilize research  of not just well-known situations such as the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, but those in the shadows that are just as important. 

In unity, we stand. In closing, I would like to share a prayer for Christian unity from Catholic Online:

Eternal Father,

we praise you for sending your Son

to be one of us and to save us.

Look upon your people with mercy,

for we are divided in so many ways,

and give us the Spirit of Jesus to make us one in love.

We ask this gift, loving Father,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.