Urging parishioners to declare that they "will not live with the sin of racism any longer," Roman Catholic leaders in Illinois issued a pastoral letter April 3 asking parishioners to help stop racism.
Issued a day before the 32nd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the seven-page letter from 14 Illinois bishops urged parishioners to combat racism by doing such things as getting acquainted with people of other races and refraining from telling racist jokes.
"It would be naive to think that racism will disappear overnight; it is too deeply embedded in the American experience. But change will come if we remain constant and never lose sight of the goal," said the pastoral letter, titled "Moving Beyond Racism: Learning to See With the Eyes of Christ."
"We commit ourselves to model in our dioceses a future without racism," the letter continued, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The letter also asked parishioners to withhold support from companies that "practice racist policies," to vote for political candidates who are serious about achieving racial justice, and to examine whether racial biases exist in news reports of violent crime.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said parishioners must move beyond tolerance in order to combat racism.
"Is there a sense of enthusiasm, not just tolerance . . . to welcome people of different races into our homes, our parishes, our neighborhoods, our institutions?" he asked.
The pastors' letter drew praise from Msgr. Jack Egan, who marched with King in 1965 in Selma, Ala.
"It is certainly a bold and a faithful statement--bold in the sense that it is concrete," Egan said. "If, in the 1950s, the bishops of Illinois had come out with a statement like this, they would have been stoned to death."