One could not attend the Votive Mass for peace and
justice at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in the aftermath of the death of
Michael Brown and not be moved by the words of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson as
he prayed for "the wisdom and compassion and courage to address the brokenness
and division that confronts us as we recognize that there is an irrepressible
yearning present in the heart of each person for good."
The Archbishop pointed to evidence of this in
the archdiocese's not distant history, in how "[i]n the summer of 1947, [his]
predecessor (Joseph) Cardinal Ritter wrote to the priests of the archdiocese
announcing the desegregation of our Catholic Schools; this paved the way for
the desegregation of the public schools seven years later."
The Archbishop noted how, in 1963, the priests of the
archdiocese made a pledge for equality of all people and that summer the Human
Rights Commission was established - with
"[m]any priests and religious ... still living who walked with Dr. Martin Luther
King defending the dignity of every human person."
And, in his homily, Archbishop Carlson announced he would
reestablish the Human Rights Commission in the Archdiocese of St. Louis as part
of "a modest beginning."
"But begin we will," he said.
A renewed Human
Rights Commission has a rich history on which to build. In its day, the commission was one of the
most active and admired in the nation. Its diverse membership was selected
based on experience, commitment and capability, rather than celebrity or
The commission was supported by an able staff. It collaborated
with other faith groups; and with neighborhood, community, labor, civic and
business organizations. The positions it took were the product of research and
reflection. It addressed leading social issues from the standpoint of Catholic
social teaching, focusing on racism, poverty, discrimination, and economic
injustice; and celebrating the rights of labor and the dignity of work.
The commission's greatest legacy to the cause of human
rights in the St. Louis community was not so much high level treatment or
powerful pronouncements on leading issues.
It was the quiet
activism in the cause of social justice fostered in church basements across
These challenges and opportunities are no less great
today. And churches still have