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 on 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 from 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 are now on the sidelines, but 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.
Centuries ago, several communities fled atrocities simply because of religious beliefs, and today this same divide is alive. We also cannot discount bigotry that has always been part of this institution. And though communion represents harmony, many who take part still have anti-Semitic views, racist attitude towards blacks, fight gender equality, and where one’s socioeconomic status can dictate sitting arrangement inside the church.
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.
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.
Since Haiti’s independence in 1804, Haiti’s invasion of the Spanish rule in trying to unify and to 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. The system treated them much like historians documented the US Jim Crow era; where they were paid less and oppressed and littler 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. 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 that 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 America countries where they 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 who 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 social stratification and marginalization cycle continues.
Time for a new scripture
Many of us are still looking for our grandparents who fled to other regions in the Caribbean such as Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti, Bermuda, Antigua, Barbados, and other places several decades ago not because of a revolution or political turmoil, but the color of one’s skin.
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, and Paraguay and other stop on your refocus mission.
Addressing poverty and the environment is always important. However, concerning the plight of many blacks, they cannot only be celebrated on football, baseball, and other professional sports field, and the community that produced these rare stars continues to deteriorate because of their lips and color.
Today, the region is suffering from corruption poverty and crime that has triggered a massive exodus of poor that threatens social and economic stability. However, the exploitation and marginalization of many blacks continue and imaging how worst it has been just because of my broad nose and thick lips.
Racial homogeneity has created 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 contribution should judge them to society in creating a peaceful and successful union for all.