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Fratelli Tutti: “Ministry to the Fringes” (Part 3)

I wanted to continue on Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti. In particular, I want to continue looking at this idea of people on the fringes.

Pope Francis emphasizes how important it is that we not only reach out and help these people. It is more important that they are included in decision making. They need “a place at the table.”

What exactly does that look like? Last year I was invited to take part in a forum on race and racism. The Parish of Saint Raymond sponsored the initiative. Saint Raymond is primarily an African-American community. It is located in Mount Airy section of Philadelphia. St. Monica has been fortunate to engage in programs and initiatives with people from St. Raymond. Several have involved missionary discipleship training.

Amid the racial tensions and turmoil over the last 6 to 8 months, St. Raymond wanted to do something positive. They put together a series of discussion topics. They invited about 12 people for each topic. These small groups would then discuss the topic in-depth over three weeks. I was fortunate enough to take part in one of the groups.

The people with whom I spoke could hardly be called a minority or a group on the fringes. All were highly educated, successful professionals. They took the initiative to reach out to parishes around the city. They set the table. They invited us to sit around to take part and discuss the issues. We did not arrive at any solutions to this issue. At least, we came to a better understanding of the complexities of the situation. We also came into a deeper relationship amongst ourselves.

One term I have heard frequently over the last month is “systematic racism.“ I don’t know if I am particularly comfortable with that term. Yet, it was disconcerting and heartbreaking to hear stories from people from Saint Raymond. There is certainly widespread, sometimes subtle – sometimes direct forms of racism. It continues to be an unfortunate fiber woven through the tapestry of our society.

During the unrest throughout the country last year, many asked what they could do. When St. Raymond presented this opportunity I accepted the invitation. It was something small I could do to try and move the needle forward in a positive way. I enjoyed the sessions. I found the conversations enlightening. Some were heartbreaking. Many were challenging.

Pope Francis writes about inviting people to the table. He mentions the elderly. The Holy Father also mentioned that people with disabilities deserve decision making authority. The Pope does not lay out any details. He offers the invitation for us to find creative ways to invite different constituents to a table to begin the conversation.

Much like the parish of Saint Raymond.

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