Cardinal decries racism against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders at Mass

BOSTON -- In a show of solidarity with Asian American communities in the wake of increasing racism, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley celebrated Mass on May 3 in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Racism and violence against Asians in the United States has increased since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. More recently, a series of mass shootings on March 16 in the Atlanta, Georgia, area resulted in the deaths of eight people, six of them Asian women.

Patrick Krisak, director of faith formation and missionary discipleship, said the idea for the Mass came out of listening sessions with members of the archdiocese's Asian communities.

He said that those who attended the sessions wanted to gather with and hear from Cardinal O'Malley. Although Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is a secular observance, it provided an opportunity for the cardinal to show his recognition and support.

"We're very grateful to him for hearing from the community and taking this time to be with them, because I think that's what they wanted, more than anything, to be recognized and have the opportunity to come together," Krisak said.

Concelebrating the Mass were priests from several Asian Catholic communities in the archdiocese. The clergy wore red vestments because the Mass coincided with the feast of St. Philip and St. James.

The Mass attendees included representatives from St. Antoine Daveluy Parish, a Korean parish in Newton; St. James the Greater Parish in Chinatown; and three Vietnamese parishes, St. Bernadette Parish in Randolph, St. Ambrose Parish in Dorchester, and St. Clement Parish in Medford.

As a preface to his homily, Cardinal O'Malley read a letter that he had prepared on the rising incidents of racism and violence against people of Asian descent.

"This is disturbing, unacceptable for our society and contrary to the human dignity that is at the heart of Church teaching," he said.

He pointed out that Asians represent more than 7 percent of the population of Massachusetts. He said that the Archdiocese of Boston is "enriched by parishes with vibrant Vietnamese, Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, Korean and Filipino communities and is blessed to have ordained a number of priests of Asian descent."

The cardinal called racism "one of the most egregious sins, that we often fail to recognize as individuals and as a community."

"Racism perpetuates a basic untruth that purports an innate superiority of one group over another because of skin color, culture, or ethnicity. This attitude contradicts the biblical understanding of God's action in creation, whereby all human beings are made in image and likeness of God. Racism denies the dignity of each human being, revealed in the mystery of the Incarnation, and blasphemes the redemptive act of Christ, who died on the cross to save all people," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He spoke about Jesus' ministry, which he said is "a clear manifestation of the universal love of the Father." Jesus repeatedly surprised his followers by ministering not only to the chosen people of Israel but also to people of other religions and cultures, such as the centurion's servant, the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, and the Gerasene demoniac.

"The irresistible logic of Christ's teaching allows the Church to be truly Catholic. Catholic means universal. To be Catholic is to embrace the universalizing implications of the Gospel message," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He went on to say that God's love is also universal, and so "if we are going to be followers of Jesus Christ, then our love must be universal as well."

He pointed to the parable of the Good Samaritan, which cast a member of a hated ethnic group as the hero of the story and neighbor to the robbers' victim.

"In one fell swoop, Jesus pops the bubble of ethnic superiority. And at the same time, he challenges us to be a neighbor to all in need, and to remove the barriers in our heart that prevent us from seeing our connectedness with every human being," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He said there is "absolutely no room for racism or discrimination in Jesus' concept of neighbor."

"We can truly love God only when we truly love our neighbor, made in his image and likeness. Apart from that love, there is no authentic religion. Because love is the essence of our religion, racism is a dangerous heresy that subverts the announcing of the Gospel," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley closed by talking about the challenge of building "a civilization of love."

"The ministry of reconciliation is a sacred duty of Christ's Church. As we embark in a new post-pandemic world, diversity must be seen as something that enriches our Church and our human family. We must move from fear and suspicion to tolerance, to solidarity, to fraternity. This is not some utopian quest, but a moral imperative for peace and progress in our planet. It's ultimately a question of survival. We will build a civilization of love, or there will be no civilization at all," he said.