By now most of you have heard what happened during a Mass celebrated at St. Peter Catholic Church in Southeast Portland. If you have not, I will tell you about it, and the beautiful response that it elicited from people of good will in our community.
On Sunday Jan. 29, eight men walked to the front door of St. Peter Church and began bellowing during the Spanish Mass. They accused worshipers of not being true Christians, questioned the sexual morals of the women and harangued the congregation for being made up of immigrants. It was a sickening display of hatred, bigotry and racism. The parish’s pastor, Father Raul Marquez, was shocked and deeply concerned for his people.
As sad and disturbing as this despicable display was, it was the response to what happened that is remarkable and so much more worthy of the public’s attention. The following Sunday, about 300 people gathered at St. Peter Church and formed a human shield of love and protection for the parishioners as they came to worship. They stood in unity and solidarity with their brothers and sisters, so wounded from the previous week’s display.
When I heard this, I was deeply touched by this public display of love for people who are a part of our community. Father Ron Millican and his parishioners at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish came immediately to the aid of their neighbors and formed much of the protective shield of love. To see the Catholic community come together like that was amazing, even if precipitated by such a tragic event. But that is what community in the Church is all about. I’m sure our Blessed Lord was most pleased!
But it was not just the Catholic community that rallied to the support of the parishioners of St. Peter and their pastor. Other Christians and even non-believers came to join together in support for their brothers and sisters and to stand against racism and hatred. That speaks to a wider sense of solidarity in our community of Portland. Disagree as we might on some things, we can all agree that there is no room for driving fear into the hearts of our neighbors.
Sadly we live in a time the likes of which some of us have never seen. The rancor, divisive rhetoric and polarization of the recent political season have not died down, but only seem to escalate as time passes. Some feel emboldened in the wake of the recent election. This is so destructive for our society and the solidarity in pursuit of the common good that should characterize our life together in community.
Such division and the demonization of those with whom we disagree (even vehemently) have no place in a society that truly seeks the best for its people. A house divided cannot stand. We will always have political and policy disagreements, and we should strongly advocate for what is true, good and just. But when it rises to the level of violent and hateful demonstration (on all sides of these issues), then the very fabric of our life in community is torn asunder. We need a return to the civility and charity which characterized the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
We need more of what happened in response to the tragic display at St. Peter Church. We need more solidarity. United we must work together in pursuit of the common good for all people.
In the meantime, we stand in loving support for all who are marginalized and targeted for discrimination. Our concern for the poor, the refugee, and immigrant families must remain strong. Yes, we have many problems to solve in the areas of immigration reform, refugee programs, and advocacy for the homeless and poor. But let’s go about that work without making any of our brothers and sisters feel they are less valued than anyone else. Every human person has a God-given dignity, whatever their status. Our hearts should be moved by those who now live in fear.