Message from the Pastor
Bulletin Issue: April 23, 2017
To celebrate our new mission statement created during the PAR process, we will periodically feature in this column reflections and stories that illustrate the meaningful work of our Parish in lieu of a Pastor’s Desk.
This week’s column is written by Rev. Paul Campbell, Associate Pastor
On April 17, with other Jesuits and descendants of slaves who were, quite literally, sold down the river, I attended a Mass of reconciliation and atonement at Georgetown University.
I didn’t go in with a cavalier spirit, but, at the outset, I felt somewhat uninvolved. After all, this horrendous deed happened ages ago, and I’m not even from Maryland. Besides, I had also suffered discrimination.
Growing up in Ulster (Northern Ireland), I quickly learned that my neighbors saw Roman Catholicism as a major stumbling block. When I was about 3, several of us were swinging on the Gaults’ driveway gate, and someone said that that she was a Presbyterian; others chimed, “Me, too,” with a few saying that they were Baptist, Methodist or Free Church. I said, “I’m a Catholic,” and was met with, “Oh, that’s different,” in a way that made it clear that this wasn’t okay.
Raised in a neighborhood with two Jewish families and us as the only Catholics, I’m sure the only reason my parents got to build their house was that my father’s name, Robert Campbell, sounded Protestant enough that the developer didn’t catch on until it was too late.
I grew up with casual and pervasive bigotry. My friends’ parents would say things like, “Catholics are dirty and breed like rabbits,” before adding, if they noticed me, “Oh, but you’re different.” You bet I felt different. My mother once told me that the head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland took her aside at a dance to tell her that my father would never advance further until he agreed to move to mainland Britain. A man of great principle, my father then refused numerous promotions, saying that he would not be exiled by prejudice and fear.
As the Mass in Dahlgren Chapel unfolded, I became aware that nothing I’d experienced came close to what those slaves, shamefully considered at the time as mere chattel, endured. The utter graciousness of their descendants overwhelmed me.
If, God willing, there are Jesuits around two hundred years from now, for what will they be asking for forgiveness? For our complicity in the Church’s cruelty to, and oppression of, women, gays and other marginalized groups? That’s only the beginning…
Presuming that my Jesuit ancestors believed they were acting in good faith and good conscience, what worries me most are other horrors and depravities of which I’m not even faintly aware and which I currently accept as the way things should be. Having said that, I take hope from knowing that, at least, from this experience, I’ve become aware in new ways.
At a ceremony at Georgetown the following day, one of the descendants told the assembly that a member of her family suffers from a debilitating disease and that, because members of Georgetown’s medical faculty are taking the lead in research for a cure, that the long-ago sale of her relatives is reaping real benefits. How loving and forgiving is that? It also helps me to remember what I preached about at Easter, that, as Tony DeMello has told us, “Be grateful for your sins. They are carriers of grace.”
May the grace of the Resurrection make us all truly grateful. Alleluia! Alleluia!