Hopeless to hopeful

| Father Charles Lachowitzer | January 11, 2018 | 13 Comments

As a seminarian, I spent three months working in one of the oldest public housing complexes in the nation. Rows and streets of multi-storied redbrick apartment buildings were filled with more illegal residents than could be counted.

Throughout the apartment buildings, in the alleyways and out on the streets, fights broke out between long-established territorial gangs. Every night, sirens wailed and uniformed officers made arrests. One night, I rode in an ambulance with a shooting victim to one of the nearby hospitals. He survived.

The fists, knives and broken bottles of old had given way to the rule of the bullet. Even the smallest of hands could pull a trigger. The underground economy of drugs, prostitution and armed extortion fueled a violence that had become a normal way of life.

A typical story in any one of these apartment buildings was that the grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. legally. They raised their family in that public housing complex, and many were still living there some 40 years later. Their children grew up in the projects, and as adults, they raised their children in the same apartment as their parents. These grandchildren were now teenagers or young adults, and some of them were raising their children in the same apartment building as their grandparents. Everyone but the grandparents lived in the shared apartments illegally.

For too many, there was nowhere else to live, and there were few opportunities for meaningful employment. Even if someone did find a job, a childhood of drugs and violence sabotaged their ability to keep the job, let alone move out of public housing.

The invisible hand of downward mobility — that which doomed a fourth generation to live in the same apartment in which their parents were born — produced a wrath that, like a ferocious tiger, bit the hand that fed them. The generations were caught in a vicious cycle of poverty simply because of where they were born, and it was the lack of hope for a better life that incited the greatest anger.

Broken homes, broken lives, broken hearts, broken brains and broken dreams.

One might imagine that this was a world with people of color. Illegal residents? Must be a Latino barrio. Gang violence? Must be a black ghetto.

Actually, the residents were all white, mostly Irish — both legal and illegal immigrants — and most were baptized as Catholics.

Whether African, Latino, Asian, European or indigenous, a culture that lacks hope is dominated by violence. To look at color as an explanation for dysfunction is, on many levels, one of the building blocks of racism.

As Minnesotans come to terms with the statistics showing alarming economic and educational disparities between whites and people of color, we are challenged to recognize that many of us may not even be aware of long-held racial stereotypes and unconscious attitudes against people of different races and cultures.

A group of pastors of historically black churches in Minneapolis has reached out to Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals “to seek collaboration in working for racial healing within the fractured body of Christ.” As we prepare to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25 and a national day of remembrance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we join with the efforts of so many to become more aware of the attitudes that contribute to the injustices and inequality that persist among us.

Guided by the teachings of our Church, we need critical eyes to see racist attitudes and compassionate ears to hear the voices of those who have long struggled to be heard. There is hope — an eternal hope born in Bethlehem in Jesus Christ. A hope that we can work together for a more just society. A hope that we can interrupt with a powerful faith the cycles of poverty and violence.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we share the hope and prayer that all God’s children, without exception, will know our God-given, inviolable dignity and value and have an equal share in the opportunities for a better life.

In his 2003 pastoral letter on racism “In God’s Image,” Archbishop Harry Flynn wrote, “Let us make this Church a clear sign to the world by speaking out against racism and by working to transform the institutions and structures in which racism is so deeply embedded. By doing so, we will make God’s love more present. We will make God’s unity more visible. We will make God’s justice more real.”

Further reading:

No esperanza, a esperanza

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Category: Only Jesus