In an urgent, beautifully written letter on racism, “Night Will Be No More,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, has given every Catholic bishop (or any religious leader) a model for how to reflect on injustice in ways both prophetic and pastoral. At this political moment, when every utterance can be scrutinized and seized on for partisan purposes, the easy choice would be to remain silent and avoid confrontation. But Bishop Seitz clearly understands that this moment does not allow for silence.
The letter opens forcefully and with necessarily blunt language referencing the August shooting in El Paso that left twenty-two dead: “Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy,” the bishop writes. “Words like ‘racism’ and ‘white supremacy’ make us uncomfortable and anxious and I don’t use these labels lightly…. Challenging racism and white supremacy, whether in our hearts or in society, is a Christian imperative and the cost of not facing these issues head on, weighs much more heavily on those who live the reality of discrimination.”
Seitz also isn’t afraid to call out political leaders. “Our highest elected officials have used the word ‘invasion’ and ‘killer’ over five hundred times to refer to migrants, treated migrant children as pawns on a crass political chessboard, insinuated that judges and legislators of color are un-American, and have made wall-building a core political project,” the bishop writes. The letter describes the border wall as “a powerful symbol in the story of race” and a “monument to hate” that has helped “to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects.” In a reminder that increased militarization of the border didn’t begin with the Trump administration, Bishop Seitz connects economic and racial exclusion in discussing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), legislation passed under the Clinton administration that was a boon for corporations but devastating for poor Mexican workers. “We saw steel barriers go up at the time of NAFTA; at the very moment when NAFTA ensured the right of wealth to cross the border freely we limited and criminalized human mobility,” the bishop writes.
Fr. Raymond Kemp, a Georgetown University professor who worked at the historically black St. Augustine Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., for more than a decade, compared Bishop Seitz’s letter to a seminal document developed by Latin American bishops at a 2007 meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, of which then-Cardinal Bergoglio served as the principal author. “There are so many bishops wearing French cuffs who are cut off from the direct experience of people and they don't get it,” Kemp told me. “This bishop is clearly in the trenches. There is no sugarcoating. He is coming straight at it with all his heart and soul.” Seitz’s “Night Will Be No More” is now immediate required reading for Kemp’s “The Church and the Poor” class at Georgetown.