By R.D. Miller
New Era: Since March 2013, your election was a very important change in the Roman Catholic Church. As the first Latin American, and Jesuit, it reconfirms the need for the church to re-focus on the poor. Many did not expect a sea change in the world overnight. Some have tried and failed, and other philosophies are taken over by political ideology and not the mere fact that people comes first.
However, given the scandal on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that many have called a cover up for decades, where lives have been destroyed, a breath of fresh air is now upon us. Today, 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.
Our Commitment: The essence of Christianity remains an invitation to others, especially the least fortunate among us, the poor. Even looking back at Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, there was a call for unity. I understood that sometimes, geopolitical events force the church to walk a fine line on issues that range from greed, global warming, tolerance, and disparities between the haves vs. have-nots.
Centuries ago, people feeling atrocities simply due to religious beliefs is alive today. However, the church has tremendous influence on these issues. We also cannot discount that race has always been part of the church from anti-Semitism, racial injustice, sexuality, and other ideologies that divide people, but the church remains strong.
The choice this time is to visit Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. It is not simply to recalibrate the Catholic faith alone. It still enjoys over 40 percent of its members from the region, which is about 430 million throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Being a native of the region and the head of the Catholic faith is always an added bonus. Sixty-nine percent of adults in Latin America identified as Catholic, according to a survey published in November. Many political leaders would be on their knees praying for these numbers today in a much divided world.
The Confession: What has transpired in Dominican Republic court ruling, threatening the deportation of over 200,000 people of Haitian descent is not simply an immigration issue of illegals or criminal elements, or overcrowding. It is ethnic cleansing, and one where thick lips and broad nose from the African Diaspora is at its core. Since Haiti’s independence in 1804, to Haiti’s invasion of the Spanish rule in trying to unify and to end slavery has not created harmony.
Quietly, missing from these visits is a dialog for racial harmony. We realize that the region is suffering from poverty and criminal elements that threaten social and economic stability. The exploitation and marginalization of many blacks continue, not limited to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. However, I must keep this confession short, as others are waiting with their own stories.
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.
Even when blacks were part of major economic development in Panama, scholars have noted that West Indian migrants were discriminated against because they were English-speaking and Protestant. It was not much different from the US Jim Crow era; where they were paid less and oppressed. These new focus on one’s features is a reality that has been on the table for centuries
The Hidden Passage: Latin America and the overall Caribbean region, where the Catholic votes are almost guaranteed, needs a mass of social stratification. The polarization and marginalization of many cannot be ignored. As 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.
Not too far from Dominican coast lines, blacks in Cuba [peizas negras] — black spices, as they were once called — despitethe abolition of slaveryin1820, Cuba benefited from up until 1873 according to historians.
The normalization of US and Cuba relations from 50 years ago, many have now seen images of an inclusive society between blacks and white Cubans. Havana looks like a melting pot. However, beneath these images, blacks are still being marginalized to slum areas, as they once were confined to sugar plantations from the documented shipment of slaves. Scholars have noted that the Afro-Cubans and others throughout Latin America are often relegated to the service economy where they are part of the vast fruit and vegetables street vendors, street dancers, artists, medicine women, and other things.
What has been going on is not a new paradigm shift. Many historians have traced this back to the 16th century to other places where black [La Negrita] inclusion from Costa Rica to Venezuela remains a struggle and especially where these Latin American countries regards themselves as white.
The irony is that, when many migrate from these privileged classes they enjoy in their native land, some find themselves doing jobs not even blacks would do. This does not make them any different, but it has a systematic racial tone, and it shows that marginalization cannot be diminished with an opportunity.
We cannot change our features to blend in, and when our roles are defined, such as reported, in Peru, where pallbearers’ jobs are precisely for blacks not because of their well-dressed tux, and pageantry in making sure one has a wonderful funeral, but simply the colour of their skin.
The Recessional Hymn: 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 colour of one’s skin. Afro-Caribbean influence and contribution has been significant to the region’s culture and economic growth, but sometimes overlooked and forgotten.
Racial homogeneity has created political stability, high rate of literacy, and overall economic growth in some of these Latin countries. After these hymns have been sung, religious leaders should use this moment to continue to mobilize social-economic, and justice issues, and a conversation that many believers is far more than the size of lips or pigmentation. They should be judged by their contribution to the society in creating a peaceful and successful union for all.
Addressing poverty and the environment is always important. However, concerning the plight of many blacks, they cannot only be celebrated on a football, baseball, and other professional sports field, and the community that produced these rare stars, continues to deteriorate because of their lips, and colour.
Amen: In the end despite being marginalized, the Catholic values are intact regardless of lip size. Millions of followers remain committed on even conservative values such as marriage between a man and a woman, and anti-abortion, and abstinence before marriage. However, the equality the robe must reach beyond the Sunday scripture of breaking bread together, but only some are being fed. The next stop could use an address on the ignorance of the thick lips, and broad nose.
See you at the 7.am Mass next week, same colour, thick lips and hips