19. Addressing the Sin of Racism as a Faith Community


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Danielle Brown

Show Notes patticc.com/19

Notas del Programa patticc.com/s19

Patti Gutierrez

Danielle Brown, of the USCCB, encourages Catholic leaders to consider how the Spirit may be moving them to respond to the sin of racism in their surroundings.

Recommended Resources

5 Cultural Differences You Need to Know

English-Spanish Parish Website Templates

Pastoral Letter Open Wide our Hearts in English & Spanish

Other resources developed by the USCCB to accompany the Pastoral Letter

Email Danielle if you would like the listening session outline

i.d. 9:16 Ministry


Greetings Gente Puente! In this episode, Danielle Brown, of the USCCB, encourages us Catholic leaders to consider how the Spirit may be moving us to respond to the sin of racism in our surroundings.

Si prefieres español puedes encontrar un resumen del programa de hoy sobre el pecado de racismo en patticc.com/s19.

I’m Patti Gutierrez from Patti’s Catholic Corner. Our team strives to serve ministries like yours from behind the scenes. We provide best practices & encouragement with this podcast and our Facebook group, as well as Spanish translation services from a team experienced in Catholic ministry.

You can find all the resources mentioned in today’s episode and a summary of the episode in English and Spanish, in the Show Notes found at patticc.com/19.

If you want to be part of our online community, just look for Gente Puente on Facebook and join the group.

Here in the United States we are about to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so it is the perfect time of year to focus on how the Holy Spirit may be moving us as ministers to respond to the sin of racism in our own communities and as a broader faith community across the entire country. Our nation seems to be divided across ethnic and racial lines, but we are Gente Puente – we look for ways to bridge divides and bring people together.

Today’s guest Danielle is a perfect person to guide us as we consider what that may look like with regard to addressing racism. She is the Associate Director of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This committee led the collaboration for the recently released Pastoral Letter Against Racism called Open Wide our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love which is now available online and in print in English and Spanish at usccb.org/racism. On this page you can also find a ton of educational and parish resources to help your community dive into the topics touched on in the Bishops’ letter. Many are already available in Spanish as well and more are being uploaded soon. In this interview, Danielle encourages each of us, whether we are people of color or not, to read the letter and wrestle with our responses and then help our communities to do the same. She also gives some great examples of how some Bishops and Dioceses have chosen to do that, as well as what resources the USCCB has developed to help parishes and schools do it as well.

Now, let’s hear my interview with Danielle!


Welcome Danielle, thanks for being on the Gente Puente Podcast with us.

Opening prayer.

Danielle thank you so much for coming. It’s a pleasure to get to talk to you today, I am excited to hear more about the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter and all the resources. But first can you tell the listeners a little about yourself, your background, your vocation, how you got started in ministry and what your role is?

Yes, my name is Danielle Brown, and I am the Associate Director of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. My background is, several fold. I’m from the Archdiocese of Detroit, by way of Lansing most recently. That’s where I got my start in ministry, working with Renewal Ministry’s, a young adult outreach called i.d. 9:16, which focuses on discipleship through the 4 pillars of orthodoxy, mission, community and conversion and it was a very powerful experience based in letting the Holy Spirit become the driving force in your life and discipleship in the Lord. I was able to start that ministry with Fr. Mark Rutherford, a priest in the Diocese of Lansing and it really turned my heart and head on towards ministry which I did in my spare time while I was an appellate administrative Law Judge for the state of Michigan in unemployment and worker’s compensation. I was doing that full time and doing part-time ministry. Soon everything I thought about revolved around ministry and my job was the thing that I did so I could help fund the ministry. This opportunity came along and I had been praying to Lord about what he wanted me to do in response to how he made me: as African American in the United States in this modern century. I was trying to make head or tails of being a minority in a minority type situation. I saw the gaping holes in the church’s ministry, specifically to communities of color and when this job description came along, it looked like my resumé on paper. I had done politics, worked in a governor’s office as assistant deputy legal counsel and had done a lot of work in undergrad working on racial unity. This had been in my DNA since my early days at Michigan State University and here I am today.

Awesome, thank you. Can you tell us in general about the new Pastoral Letter and share a little bit about the resources that you all have developed?

Sure, so the Pastoral Letter is the fruit of a lot of work done by, most of the committees at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s really a labor of love. We are almost 40 years after the most recent letter on racism “Brothers and Sisters to Us” put out in 1979. The Bishops really saw the racial unrest in the nation, starting around 2013 and 2014, the unarmed killing of black men and the racial rioting across the USA, particularly the alt-right marching on Charlottesville and Virginia and decided they really needed a strong response. They had been working on the pastoral letter for the past two years but the March on Charlottesville made them realize that they wanted to do something further, so they established the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Which is charged with implementing the pastoral letter. So the pastoral Letter, which is now available in print, is about 26 pages that goes through where we have been in terms of the history of racism in America., where we want to go and focuses on the Catholic experience and racism, and seeks to bring those two things together. We want people to understand that being Christian is antithetical to being a racist, it just doesn’t fit. This is a continuation of a conversation that the Bishops have been involved in since the 1940’s they’ve been speaking out against racism. This document is written in the form of a Pauline Letter, it starts with the basis that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. It calls us forth into understanding that if we understand our identities as made in God’s image and likeness, then we all realize that we are all His children, therefore we are all brothers and sisters. That is the core of the Pastoral Letter. It highlights the prophetic witness of people in several different racial and ethnic groups and calls us forward to walk in their footsteps.

How would say this Pastoral Letter, could be carried out or brought to the attention of people in a Diocese or maybe in a parish?

Through my experience, the thing that really makes people responsive at a parish is, a priest who is really taken by an idea or a message, moved by the Holy Spirit. I do believe this is a time in our nation where the Holy Spirit is about sort of forcing the Catholic church into thinking about things in a new way. Not in a worldly sense, but in a godly sense and a spirit-filled sense. If all things were perfect at a parish level, the priest would download the letter, read it, and then take it to prayer and speak to his pastoral team about it and invite them to read it. Then, perhaps they would have conversations about it in the midst of a few pastoral team meetings. Then inspired, bolstered, or challenged by what his team had to say, he would ideally start to preach about it. That is the type of matriculation that I have seen be truly effective for thoughts, ideas, Holy Spirit principles and Kingdom building at a parish level. Conversely, modern Christians we really have to realize that we are all—through baptism—priest, prophet, and king. So the next time we hear somebody say our priest should do x, realize that part of your vocation is priestly as well, and prophet and King. What does it mean to be a priest and prophet? It means you were sanction to do priestly things by the release of the Holy Spirit at your baptism in the sense that you want to be somebody who is declaring the Lord’s kingdom, first in your life, next in your family. Each of us is called through that authority to respond to the Holy Spirit, who would have us all respond to the vestiges of racism in our lives and in our surroundings. And figure out how the Holy Spirit would have us respond to it. As prophets, each one of us is called to speak the truth in love and in the Holy Spirit and as the Holy Spirit moves us. But that takes a mature Christian. You can’t talk about a conversion, least of all when it comes to racism, unless you talk about a total conversion towards Jesus Christ and letting the Holy Spirit bring to the surface things he wants to reveal and heal in your life and through you reveal and heal others others.

For those who are working in parishes or maybe catholic schools, that are listening, what are some practical, concrete ways that they could take this letter and, what are the resources that you guys have that they could use to spread the word about this message?

Sure, here at the Conference we have been hard at work putting together a lot of resources that you can find at www.usccb.org/racism, if you scroll to resources you can find several resources and several past statements from the Bishops. For school personnel and educators, we have several backgrounders just to give people more information on areas that the pastoral letter touches upon but isn’t able to spend a lot of time on. We have backgrounders on systematic racism, economic and equality, education, employment, housing, criminal justice and Native American experiences, all combined with the issue of racism. We also have racism in voting, and several prayer resources, a scripture reflection, 2 children’s prayers and educational activities for children from kindergarten thru 8th grade and some activities for high school and college campus communities. After we give people in parishes some time to digest the document, we’ll be coming out with a general study guide to guide questions and answers. It’s a document that should really be reckoned with first-hand rather than looking for some sort of executive summary. It’s important that people note their internal responses and be honest with them, not scared by them. If some part of the letter inspires fear or sadness, or upset, let that come. Let the Holy Spirit talk to you during those moments and guide you and seek healing through the Holy Spirit. Ultimately in a school setting you want to teach your children that process as well. They are able to articulate what they are feeling from a young age. Teach children about people’s goodness and their dignity and teach them to turn their emotions over to the Lord asking the Holy Spirit to give them something in return to draw them closer to the heart of the Lord.

Thank you. Can you share a little bit about places that you have already seen starting to implement this or to spread the word about this message in their Diocese?

There have been several dioceses that have been anticipating this letter. Particularly St. Louis, as we all know the city has had challenges over the last several years and continue to have racial issues. They are one of the first dioceses that we had an Ad Hoc Committee-led listening session on race. Marie Kenyon, an amazing leader, is the Director of the Justice and Peace Commission there. She and her team put together a wonderful listening session. They had already been in the process of reckoning with the diocesan racial issues. Now that they have this document, they are really able to bolster their plans for racial unity and the call from the Bishops to respond to the prophetic calls from the letter in concrete ways. They’re continuing to call together their community and to have conversations based on racism and with me based on some of the letters and notices that we got out of the listening sessions [from attendees] in terms of following up and looking into what happened, even if it was decades ago. They have said “let’s see if we can do something to make it right or seek forgiveness.”

The Diocese of St. Petersburg in Florida has been doing the same thing; they have a different racial makeup than St. Louis but still face some of the same challenges. They have been hard at work doing follow-ups and trainings in terms of teaching people how to speak about race and feel safe speaking to their neighbors, the other, about racial issues.

There have been several efforts of follow up to what we have been working on. The Diocese of Brooklyn, held a listening session that was led by the diocese but I was able to attend as an on-looker. They have deputized a core group of people working on racial justice to listen to the concerns of the people and to make recommendations to the Bishops. That’s something that I’ve seen be very fruitful: when Bishops realize that they need a consulting group of lay people and religious to advise him on things related to race and ethnicity.


Sponsor – Patti’s Catholic Corner patticc.com/resources

We will continue with my interview with Danielle in a moment, but I want to share with you two free resources offered by my company, Patti’s Catholic Corner. At patticc.com/resources you can find an e-book that I wrote for people like me who were raised in the prevailing culture here in the United States, but who want to learn more about Hispanic culture and how the differences affect ministry with the Hispanic community. The other free resource is for web masters of Catholic parishes to help them welcome and provide basic information to people who speak Spanish. They are texts that you can easily cut and paste onto your pages without knowing a word of Spanish. If you or a ministry leader you know could use these resources, please visit patticc.com/resources to download them for free.

Now we continue with the conversation with Danielle.

Can you describe what the listening sessions are like and do you have like an outline of what people have followed or is that something that each Diocese creates?

Every diocese is free to put the listening sessions in a form that their Bishop is comfortable with but when someone asks me about the listening sessions, I say that the way St. Louis did it was really the gold standard. People can send me an email at dmbrown@usccb.org for more information on the outline for listening sessions. The Archdiocese of St. Louis got their Justice and Peace Committee together and came up with a list of people they were aware of, who had stories that their Bishops needed to hear, related to race. They extended an invitation to those people; they divided those people into groups, such as the elders, the youth, the educators, the ministers and the lay people, and had people present their stories there. In between each group of 5 people or so, they had the group sing “There is a Balm in Gilead”, and gave us all a moment to sing about the healing power of the Lord as we processed what we had just heard. The stories were raw and poignant, even those that were 20 or 30 years old. Once each group was done making those statements they collected from the audience all of their written stories and did a collective prayer sending those stories up to the Lord and asking the Holy Spirit’s healing power to come down in that moment and heal those hearts. Then we closed with another song, and we had time for the people who gave their testimony to speak directly to the Bishop, which was Archbishop Carlson’s own idea. I was really struck by the number of people who came up to me and said, “I really felt vindicated,” even if they didn’t speak. They were able to see their stories reflected on the stage. So many there identified with the experiences that we heard, including me, even though I’ve been listening to stories for a while now.

Sounds like a very powerful experience.

It was. It truly was.

So our main audience are catholic leaders that are connected to the Hispanic community in some way. Do you have any specific advice or examples related to the Hispanic/Latino community and this letter, whether that is helping communities be more open and accepting of the Hispanic community or vice versa, using these resources within the Hispanic Community?

It’s important for folks in our Hispanic Community to read the Letter and grapple with it, just like every other community will have to. I would recommend forming small groups and do whatever comes naturally if there’s another person in your life or in your parish that you normally me up with; bring the document along or bring it up casually and see if you can generate a conversation around the document. I also think it’s important that we start talking about this again. Not in a way that is unsettling. I don’t think the Holy Spirit means for us to lose our peace over this, but I do think that it’s time for this to receive some space in our hearts and heads because it’s the first step towards action. Secondly, I think it’s important specifically for Hispanics and other people of color to form coalitions and so I would encourage the community within their dioceses and parishes that may not be integrated to start reaching across those lines. Many times one or two coalitions like that can bring everyone else into line. There are many churches where Masses are separated by language and sometimes by ethnicity within the same parish. They can be a source of beauty for some but a source of anger for others because they don’t understand why the parish can’t be unified. This is the perfect moment to invite people into common spaces and get them talking to each other, particularly if they are in a parish with Masses that are broken down in language. To invite those that don’t typically mix within a parish to start doing that.

Yes, that moment of encounter can break down so many barriers. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about this before we move on, I want to ask more about ministry in general, but do you have anything else you wanted to say?

Sure, I would just challenge people to let the Letter into their hearts and to read it. I think it’s sad when you ask people about their Bishop and they don’t know who they are or what he does or what he thinks about things. Read the document and give yourself an opportunity to see what your bishops are actually saying and to pay attention to it. It is their job to teach us. We want to be sheep that listen to the shepherd.

Danielle before we close the interview, I want to ask you as a leader in ministry you’ve been leading ministry in many different aspects now, what’s something that you have learned that you can share with other ministers?

Self-care. I think that the aspect of self-care is something you don’t really learn about in ministry unless you’re going through a formal ministry education program. If you get called into ministry the old-fashioned way, like in the Acts Chapter 1 and 2 sort of way, they don’t give you a manual on how to take care of yourself. I had to steep myself in the Gospels to figure out that Jesus was always sort of slipping away and going to pray, to talk to the Father. After I got into ministry and was hitting a ministry wall, I realized that unless I do as the Lord does in that specific sense, I will not have longevity in this. If this is the Holy Spirit driving my life and ministry into more life and ministry and deeper into his heart, calling me to bring people with me – I can’t do that unless I follow his example and resting. It may mean that at a long day of a conference you take an extra break to rest or pray. If it means you have to leave a session ten minutes early to have a prayer time, we have to protect our sleep and our prayer time, our diet and our exercise doggedly. It is absolutely pinnacle. Those weak links are the ones that the Evil one really likes to seize upon. And he will do it. We have to be on guard and not foolish about those aspects of our lives, because we are human. We can forget that. The Holy Spirit will never call us to treat ourselves as less than the Temple.

Would you mind closing with a few words of encouragement for a minister who is listening who might have hit that wall that you are saying, or just having a difficult time and then if you would close with a prayer for all those that serve the church please?

For those of you who feel like you’re about to quit, don’t do it, because you can’t. Our call is to go out and make disciples in all nations. The Lord can’t do that without our help and our minds and our spirits being in sync with His. The first step is to double your prayer time; because if you are burning out the likelihood is that your prayer time has fallen off as well. Get to the nearest adoration chapel and sit there for twice as the time you have been able to do in the past few days. You have to find a time to sit in front of the Holy Eucharist. Let the Lord look at you and look at Him. Don’t do anything. Do not give up because he needs your heart, he needs your passion. He will heal the ways that you have been wounded in the Church, the ways you’ve been ignored or put down by the people that you are trying to minister to, and the way that you’ve been forgotten by your peers because you’ve been so wrapped up in ministry. I know how it feels, but don’t quit.

Heavenly Father we call upon you now, to bring your Holy Spirit down upon your ministers in the church, and particularly your ministers of color, who are sometimes feeling under the weight of a double oppression, the oppression of being under spiritual attack for trying to do this good work and often being on the outs when it comes to working in a system that wasn’t designed for them. Holy Spirit I know that you know everything that they are going through, and I know that you want to enlighten their hearts and that you want to lift their spirits and heal their wounds, and you want them to be more than a work horse. You want them to be more than the person who gets things done in the parish, more than a youth minister, more than a DRE, more than a super volunteer. You want them to be your friends, you want them to be your daughter, your son, and you want them to be your love. Let their hearts hear you calling them in to a deeper love relationship and a deeper peace and a deeper rest. We ask these things through Christ our Lord, through Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Amen.

Amen, Thank you Danielle I really appreciate you coming and sharing your experience. I really can feel the Holy Spirit moving within you and your ministry, so I really appreciate that you shared that with us today.


What an inspiring interview with Danielle! I just love her emphasis on letting the Spirit lead our ministry. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Racism and Christianity are incompatible. And we are each sanctioned by our Baptism, we’ve been given the priestly authority, to speak up against sin and proclaim God’s Kingdom. But that requires Christian maturity and a continuous conversion on our part to follow Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
  2. Read the letter. I don’t know about you, but I am often guilty of what Danielle said – looking for the boiled down, talking points version of Church documents. But she is right. There is nothing that compares to taking the time to read them and grappling with what it stirs up in us. So let’s start with the most basic step first – read the letter!
  3. Once we have read the letter and let the Holy Spirit work on us, it is time to let him work through us and share the message with our faith communities. Like Danielle said, “it’s time to start talking about it again.” We owe it to our communities and our nation to rise up as Gente Puente and find ways to bridge the divides of race and ethnicity. Check out the many resources the USCCB offices have collaborated to provide at usccb.org/racism. If you are a diocesan leader consider approaching your Bishop about hosting a listening session and/or forming a body that is empowered to bring these issues to his attention and help him address them as Danielle mentioned.
  4. Invite people into common spaces. I think this is a key piece of advice for those who lead ministries with the Hispanic community. The best way to bridge divides within a diverse Hispanic community as well as within a diverse parish community is to create opportunities for people to encounter one another.
  5. Do not quit! I just love Danielle’s encouragement for ministers who are about to quit. Simply put – you can’t. Isn’t that so true? When God calls you into ministry it’s something that can never really be undone. I have found that to be true, even though I have transitioned out of direct ministry during this season, I found myself quickly called into ministry in a different way through this podcast. But for this to be a long-term mission we have to pay attention to our self-care and steep ourselves in the Gospel like Danielle said. Check out episode 14 with Sandra Navarro when we dove deeper into the topic of self-care for ministers.

I hope you found this interview helpful for you and your ministry!

Don’t forget to visit the Show Notes with all the resources mentioned in this episode at patticc.com/19.

As always I look forward to seeing you in our online community in the Gente Puente Facebook group – just go to facebook.com/groups/gentepuente or search Gente Puente to join!

And also, be sure to subscribe to the Gente Puente podcast in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or your favorite podcast app so you do not miss any future episode!

Thanks for listening today. May God bless you and your ministry as Gente Puente!

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