To Do Our Work Serving Others, We Must Acknowledge and Fight Against Racism

by Father John Enzler | June 10, 2020

President and CEO Msgr. John J. Enzler offers these thoughts as the country continues to strive for justice for all. 

Today is my 73rd birthday. In looking back on my life, I am reflecting on God’s blessings but also the sin of racism that continues to affect us all.

  • I remember as a very young boy, watching my father take the coat off his back and give it to a black man in front of our house in a “lily-white” neighborhood. I asked him why, and he simply said, “The man was cold.”
  • I remember going to Our Lady of Lourdes School where, to my recollection, there were no children of color in the 1,100 students that attended the parochial school in Bethesda in the ’50s and ’60s.
  • I remember attending St. John’s College High School and sitting in classes with African American students who became my buddies. But I also remember the 1962 state championship football game at RFK stadium between St. John’s and Eastern High School. A terrible fight broke out. The papers called it a race riot. It was a frightening experience for all.
  • I remember graduating and working in the Senate on Capitol Hill that summer. I was blessed to witness firsthand the debate on the Civil Rights Act during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. With some contention, it passed and became the law of the land.
  • I remember the savage murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 when I was in college. There were marchers and violence back then, too.
  • I remember my first days at Catholic Charities and the racial diversity evident in our staff, volunteers and those we serve. I was so proud to be asked to lead an organization that was so diverse.

To be honest, I thought we had turned a corner. I believed that racism was declining in our country and that so many of my early experiences were speaking of a new day for our country. I was clearly wrong, and I’m sad that I didn’t see what so many others saw and that my African American brothers and sisters were experiencing.

The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Botham Jean, Michael Brown and so many others speak volumes about our inability to accept black men and women as equal members of our society.

It is important that I speak to our staff and all in the Catholic Charities family about my commitment to you and to all those we serve. We cannot and will not accept racism, prejudice, discrimination or bigotry in our words and actions. I profess my belief that Black Lives Matter and hope that you will join me in standing against racism and injustice.

We continue to work toward the vision that all are created equal and that every human life has dignity as given by God. Our work is centered around serving every person in need and upholding the dignity of every person. To do this, we must acknowledge and fight against racism and other forms of hatred in our society. Our mission clearly states:

  • We affirm the sacredness and dignity of all human life.
  • We pledge service to those in need regardless of background, belief or circumstance.
  • We cherish the racial and cultural diversity of our staff and those we serve.
  • We believe that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and thus all are to be treated with love, dignity and respect and everything that flows from this belief and, as a people of faith, we feel the need and the responsibility to respond.

Recent events highlight that in our communities and even at Catholic Charities injustices, disparities, discrimination and distrust continue to exist. We recognize that these systemic issues affect not only the people we serve but also, for many Catholic Charities staff, they affect our own families, friends, neighbors and other forms of community. Every day, our staff must uphold the dignity of the people we serve, regardless of their race, ethnicity, place of birth, legal status, age, abilities, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. Saying “Yes” means not only opening our doors to everyone but being willing to recognize and acknowledge why people need support, and what factors have contributed to their circumstances.

We once again affirm our commitment to Catholic Social Teaching, which guides us and our mission. We live by the framework that guides everything we do and that cultivates a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society.

  • Life and Dignity of the Human Person
    Human life is sacred, and every person has inherent dignity.
  • Call to Family, Community, and Participation
    How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy — directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.
  • Rights and Responsibilities
    Human dignity is only protected when human rights are protected. We share responsibility for protecting each other’s dignity.
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
    We are only as good as how we meet the needs of — and protect the dignity of — the most vulnerable among us.
  • Solidarity
    We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, whoever and wherever they may be. This includes promoting and protecting peace.
  • Dignity to Work and the Rights of Workers
    Right to productive work, decent and fair wages, safe working conditions, to organize, to private property and to economic initiative.
  • Work for God’s Creation
    Respect the earth and the environment.

And so, we pledge in the midst of our hurt, anger and despair to stand with each other; to provide comfort and strength to each other when we need it most; to speak to and give witness with our lives in overcoming racism, discrimination and inequality in our communities by firmly rooting ourselves in the mission of Catholic Charities, which we hold dearly.

Clearly, I have to take “the plank out of my own eye before removing the splinter from my brothers and sisters.” I will continue to work to overcome any bias in me. Please join me in reflecting on your own beliefs and actions while listening to and respecting others, particularly those who may be different from you. For it is together that we must move forward.

May God bless our country, our church, Catholic Charities, and bless us all.

Rev. Msgr. John J. Enzler
President and CEO
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington