The civil rights movement of the mid 20th century was undoubtedly one moved by a deeply rooted Christian faith.
It was faith, not despair; faith, not cynicism; faith, not pride, that led the great leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and others to lead a movement for basic human dignity. They did it at a time when no rational person could imagine an end to the immense human suffering in our country. Lynchings. Degradation. Bombings. Rape.
For these great leaders, liberty could only come in an American "promised land," established through divine providence and divinely-inspired direct action, not "piecemeal and pygmy" reform.
It was the same faith in a Christian God that Patriarch Josyf Slipyj trusted in during 18 years of unjust incarceration in the Soviet Union. A faith that imagined the creation of free education, sovereignty, and global Christian unity from behind the cold barbed wire of a Siberian Gulag. It was a faith that his sadistic torturers described as lending him “sheer light” when other men were “gray masses.”
We, too, must depend on our faith to trust in a world where Black mothers and fathers, children and other kin do not need to worry about whether they will survive every day. We must depend on our faith so we don’t lapse into cynical revenge, or nationalist hubris, sowing destruction because so much has been taken from people against their will.
We must apply the same justice, as taught by the international-patriarchal vision of Patriarch Josyf, in America as we expect in Ukraine, Belarus, Hong Kong, and Lebanon.
This month marks 57 years since Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps on the Lincoln memorial to say: “we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last!”
In following the example of Jesus Christ, we must also give ourselves to this cause fully. We must do what the cries of Black Americans beg us to do. We must pray, demand justice, and act charitably, in love, patience, and understanding. We must repent for historical wrongs — allowing for our left hands to uphold our personal identities, while allowing our right hands to whither before they can feed our neighbors.
This means marching for our spiritual ancestors who may not have walked with Martin Luther King during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It means inviting our Catholic bishops, to make up for their conspicuous absence from the original March on Washington. It means using both our hands to lift up those for whom justice has been denied.
This is why the St. Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship is joining with a new group, Catholic Social Action, to invite the Church to Washington — spiritually or physically — this year on August 28th. This is sure to be the first of many collaborations with a group that appeals to the universality of our Church and discovers messages of justice in our holy rituals, as did Patriarch Josyf.
Please consider signing their open letter here, and share the official invitation to Eastern Catholic bishops with your local bishop. Download the PDF here, and email it to the eparchies falling under “Region 15: Eastern Churches” of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A partial directory can be found here or by visiting your local eparchy’s website.
PRIEST: May Christ our true God, who is the King of Peace, Sun of Justice, the Prince of Peace, and Liberator of Humanity; through the prayers of His most-pure Mother who appeared at Guadalupe; of the holy, glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John; of the saints Moses and Aaron, Miriam, and Deborah, Esther and Judith, Elijah and Elisha, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths and their companions, who stood before the kings and rulers of this world and declared the works and words of the Lord; of the Holy Evangelist Phillip, apostle to the Ethiopians; of the Holy Desert Father, Moses the Black; through the holy intercessions of Quiteria and all the martyrs, including the new martyrs Omelyan and Klymentiy who defended the criminalized and marginalized; the Holy Juan Diego of Tepeyac, Kateri of Kahnawake, Junipero of California, and Black Elk of Rapid City, the Merciful Martin of Peru, enlighteners of the Americas; of the Hieroconfessor Augustus of Chicago and the confessors Josephine of Sudan and Julia of Denver; the Righteous Pierre of Haiti and Dorothy of New York; as well as our father among the saints Athanasius of Alexandria; by the prayers of the holy ancestors of Christ, and herald of the Savior Isaiah, of the holy fathers, prophets, and just ones who awaited for the Messiah’s coming; of Saint (name), who we commemorate today, and through the prayers of all the saints, have mercy on us and save us for He is good and the Lover of humanity.