I have met many persons who assumed I was a Black man, an African American. I am not. My ancestry is Filipino.
Whenever a person acts out of racism to hurt or kill a person of color, I wonder when my turn will come to suffer for the same reason.
It happened again four days ago. A young white man, having posted white supremacist declarations, made his way to Buffalo, New York, to kill Black men and women. His published plan was to hunt them down in a grocery store, on the street, and in a Walmart. He killed ten in the grocery store and its parking lot before the police arrived to stop him.
When will it be my turn to suffer from such a thing?
I do not believe a white Catholic priest would kill me, a fellow priest, for being a man of color.
But Catholic priests did in fact perpetrate the three most “right-into-my-personal-face” experiences of racism in my life.
I have written of these incidents before. I am writing again of them now, because racism and white supremacy are real among the members of the Catholic Church and its priesthood. As real as the racist mass murder in Buffalo this past Saturday!
Born in 1958 in the Philippines of Filipino parents, I came to the USA with them when I was less than a year old, and years later, while still a child, I became a citizen of the USA. I entered my Benedictine monastery in California in 1981.
Around 1985, after learning that a Filipino Benedictine monk and priest had become the president of the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy in Rome, I mentioned it to a white priest here in California.
He chuckled and smiled.
I told him it was no joke.
Still smiling, he said, “No.”
I spoke again to tell him it was true.
Then his face turned angry, he raised his voice, and he spat out at me,
“How did a FILIPINO get that?”
In Rome, 1988 to 1991, I was a student at the international Benedictine theology school of Sant’ Anselmo.
I was a member there of the choir for the Masses and other monastic services of prayer and worship. On some occasion outside the liturgy, someone complimented me on my voice.
But a white priest overheard it, turned, and told me my voice did not match my skin color and racial features.
Still in Rome. A group of Europeans and I were speaking about the so-called “Indians,” the aboriginal indigenous peoples of the Americas. I mentioned that the native peoples died quickly in great numbers because they had no resistance to the diseases the Europeans brought. At that, a white priest (from Spain that had colonized the Americas and the Philippines) shouted me down with,
“NO— YOU people gave US the diseases!”
Those three were not the only personal experiences of racism I have had, but they were the most explosive ones. And it’s too bad the perpetrators were Catholic priests.
Racism, as with all other sin, is not going to disappear until the Second Coming ushers in the new heaven and earth. Discrimination against others whose language, nationality, culture, or race are different was already a scandal dividing the infant Church during the lifetime of the first apostles.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty.” [Acts 6:1-3]
In that incident, “the twelve,” the apostles (all the first bishops, the whole clergy), were members of the group, the Hebrews, that discriminated against the Hellenists (Greeks).
Thank God the apostles recognized the injustice of discrimination as such and openly confronted it at a gathering of the whole “body of the disciples,” the whole Church!
Would that all Catholic clergy and the whole Church could do the same today!