2 min read
Posted on 09.04.14
  • 2 min read
  • Posted on 09.04.14

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 office.

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 many parishes.

These challenges and opportunities are no less great today. And churches still have basements.