Building a Bridge over Troubled Waters
By Rev. John J. Raphael, SSJ
(Article: Page 1 of 5)
As I write this article, I am contemplating a journey that I will soon make to Washington, DC. It is a journey that I have made every year save one since 1991. Over the years I have gone with seminarians as a seminarian, with parishioners as a parish priest, with college students as a Newman chaplain, and now with high school students as a principal. The journey to which I refer is to the Right-to-Life Mass and Rally held in the nation's capital every year on January 21 and 22, to protest the most tragic of all Supreme Court decisions ever rendered,
Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion in our nation.
Each year the trip is a unique experience. As I have frequently emphasized with all participants, it is a pilgrimage, a journey of prayer and penance, whose ultimate purpose is to invoke the power of God to remove the scourge of legalized abortion from our land. This year the trip is especially unique because it literally comes on the heels of one of the most historically symbolic events our nation has witnessed, the inauguration of the first African-American as president of the United States of America.
And thus it is that I contemplate these two phenomena, as indeed others have, some of whose reflections have previously appeared in this newspaper. My reflections come from the perspective of an African American priest who has spent the last seventeen years working to bring African-Americans into the pro-life movement with a firm conviction that the Black community, with its unique history in America and its traditional value system, has the potential to turn the pro-abortion tide and to make America a truly pro-life country. However, the road to that particular destination is still a long and difficult one and achieving that goal will only come with perseverance, prayer, and spiritual reparation.
Why is that? To answer this question, I will attempt to express what my experience has led me to see as being the great divide, some might say chasm, that exists between the pro-life and the African American communities. The division is not based on a fundamental disagreement about the immorality and tragedy of abortion-I say this based on the responses of hundreds of African Americans who have attended pro-life conferences that my religious community has sponsored-no, the divide is at another level, a much deeper and more complex level. To this day, there is a fundamental inability for these two groups to communicate effectively with each other due to an inability to understand different sets of assumptions. Thus there exists lasting misunderstanding, frustration, and sadly mistrust.
Can the divide be overcome? I truly believe that it can, and have worked with many of both races who are committed to accomplishing this task. I believe that the key to building a bridge between the two groups lies in a mutual attempt to understand each other, to enter into the other's experience as deeply as possible, and to discover a basis for mutual respect and common ground. I would now like to offer a few examples to illustrate my point.
The election of Barack Obama has become a touchstone in reference to this problem and I think using it as an example can help us move forward. What to one group is seen as the God-given answer to prayers of many generations is seen by the other as apocalyptic disaster. Can there be a meeting of the minds between such diverse and opposite positions? It can be done, but only by genuinely entering into the other's experience.
Consider this. Lately, local public television in my home town has been running several shows about New Orleans, "the way it was." For many, these are great opportunities for nostalgia and pining for the "good ol' days!" But does everyone experience those days in the same manner? For example, I was born in 1967. I went to integrated public schools and then to the Josephite-run St. Augustine High School. I chose to go to St. Aug because I wanted to attend the best high school in New Orleans, not because it was the only option I had as an African-American male! I had opportunities in New Orleans that my parents, and certainly my grandparents, never had. I remember them describing how different and difficult things were back in "the good ol' days," and honestly, I didn't fully understand or appreciate their experiences until I grew up.
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