By R. D Miller
An Open Letter
New Era: Dear Pope Francis, since March 2013, your election was a very important change in the Roman Catholic Church. As first Latin America and Jesuit, your selection to this covenant leadership role reconfirms the need for the church to refocus on the many who have been forgotten at the altar.
However, given the recent scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that many called a cover-up for decades, where lives have been destroyed, a breath of fresh air is now upon us.
The world is not expecting a sea change in the world overnight. Some have tried and failed, and it takes an alternative approach even walking a delicate biblical line and or political ideology to bring our society closer to a systematic social divide along many fronts is overdue.
I have spoken with a few black and brown people who are looking forward to your Latin American trip and understood that sometimes, geopolitical events force the church to revisit how it looks at the world issues that range from greed, inequality, racism, tolerance, and disparities between the haves vs. have-nots.
Though many of us who have embraced the faith from our parents’ teaching as a child is now on the sidelines, recently we are rethinking our departure. Even some non-believers admire the church’s new platform of openness for dialog.
Today, there is still a struggle with what sexuality it suits to hold the bible and other philosophies that continue to isolate communities, but the church endures and can send a powerful message beyond the pulpit.
Even looking back at Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, there was a call for unity and Pope Francis’s choice this time is to visit Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay will build on that teaching and re-calibrate the Catholic faith alone.
Several communities fled atrocities centuries ago simply because of religious beliefs, and the same divide exists today. We also cannot dismiss the bigotry that has always existed within this institution.
And, while communion represents unity, many who participate still hold anti-Semitic views, have racist attitudes toward black people, fight for gender equality, and where one’s socioeconomic status can dictate seating arrangements inside the church.
Beyond the offerings and tides.
The catholic church still enjoys over 40 percent of its members from the region, which is about 430 million throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, according to religious scholars. And sixty-nine percent of adults in Latin America identified as Catholic. Many political leaders would be on their knees praying for these numbers today in a much-divided world to win an election.
Quietly, missing from these visits is a dialog for racial harmony. The Catholic faith taught us that all are equal, and we reconfirm that during communion when all drink from the same cup. This three-second feeling of inclusion often only lasts from the pulpit back to our seats.
In many Latin American countries, black people continue to face discrimination. I will not use the terms people of color, but the less dark color in this context. Simply put, when many lighter-skinned Hispanics migrate to other industrial countries, some become aware that they are people of color.
Unfortunately, some people still believe that black people should be over there, and less than others, but only through education and collaboration can these groups of color become a force, but let me return to this trip.
Closer than you could imagine
Since Haiti’s independence in 1804, Haiti’s invasion of the Spanish rule in trying to unify and end slavery has not created harmony. Even when blacks were part of major economic development from Costa Rica to Panama, scholars have noted that they discriminated against West Indian migrants because they were black English speaking and Protestant.
What has transpired in the Dominican Republic court ruling, threatening the deportation of over 200,000 people of Haitian descent. It is not simply an immigration issue of illegals, criminal elements, or overcrowding? It is ethnic cleansing and one where thick lips and broad noses from the African Diaspora are at its core.
The system treated them much like historians documented the US Jim Crow era; where they were paid less and oppressed and had little protection under the law.
Dr. Henry Hates noted, between 1502 and 1866, 11.2 million Africans survived the dreadful Middle Passage and landed as slaves in the New World. For those vessels of slaves, many are still trying to find an anchor.
The other hidden passages:
Though this trip cannot fix it all, we cannot ignore the polarization and marginalization of many. Not too far from Dominican coastlines, blacks in Cuba [peizas negras] — black spices once called and — despite the abolition of slavery in 1820, where Cuba benefited from until 1873 according to historians.
Afro-Cubans and others throughout Latin America are often relegated to the service economy where they are part of the vast fruit and vegetable street vendors, street dancers, artists, medicine women, and other things..
The recent attempt by the Obama Administration to normalization of US and Cuba relations has been a delicate hymn for over 50 years because of political ideology and other atrocities, many hopes that with this new push towards normalization, black and white Cubans can gain some of any potential socioeconomic benefits.
Afro-Caribbean influence and contribution have been significant to the region’s culture and economic growth but sometimes forgotten.
Sadly, despite these few steps in diplomatic relations; many black and brown people are being marginalized to slum areas, as they once were confined to sugar plantations from the documented shipment of slaves not only in Cuba but other places where you will visit such as Costa Rica to Venezuela.
Many historians have traced this back to the 16th century to other places where black [La Negrita] especially in Latin American countries where regard themselves as white.
In Lima, Peru there is a tradition where pallbearers are black and native; some argue that it is simply employment, but others see it as racism, and only those job opportunities are for blacks. For blacks, it is not because of their well-dressed tux, and pageantry in making sure one has a wonderful funeral, but simply the color of their skin.
Experts noted that since they abolished slavery in 1854, “Blacks are all but absent from Peru’s business and political elite. It relegates them to sugar cane plantations along the nation’s Pacific coast.” Less than four percent of Peru’s blacks go to college.
The irony is that some exploit black people and other minorities when they migrate to places like the U.S. Canada, or the UK from their privileged classes status and prestige, some will do jobs not even blacks would not do.
This does not make them any different but reinforces that the social stratification and marginalization cycle continues.
Time for a new scripture
A lot of us are still searching for our grandparents who fled or were forced to other Caribbean countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti, Bermuda, Antigua, Barbados, and other locations decades ago, not because of a revolution or political unrest but rather because of the color of one’s skin, thick lips, and broad nose.
I hope the next confession will bring some changes to this group of Catholics because I believe that the church has a tremendous influence on these issues. This is not limited to Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and other stops on your refocus mission.
It is always crucial to address environmental issues and poverty. Regarding the situation of many black people, nevertheless, they cannot only be honored on the fields of professional football, baseball, this visit, and or other sports, and the neighborhood that created these exceptional stars is still deteriorating due to their lips and skin tone.
Many of these impoverished and emerging areas are currently plagued by corruption, poverty, and crime, which has led to a significant outflow of the poor and jeopardized social and economic stability. However, think how much worse it has been merely because of my big nose and thick lips because many black people continue to be exploited and marginalized.
Racial homogeneity I believe would have created more political stability, a high rate of literacy, and overall economic growth in some of these Latin countries.
After they have sung these hymns, religious leaders should use this moment to continue to mobilize social-economic and justice issues, and a conversation that many believers are far more than the size of lips or pigmentation.
Their contributions to society should be evaluated on how they help us achieve a harmonious and prosperous union for all people, not on how they look. (Amen)