The question of racism will always be a hot button moral topic in these, our beloved United States. Our history is difficult, but I live in hope that we can have a better future than either our past or present. There has been a lot of anger expressed recently about racial injustice. My own sense is that while anger can motivate change, it can also entrench people in the worst thinking and actions. With that in mind, I worked with our fellow parishioner, Cynthia Jones-Campbell, to set up an evening, entitled “Our Truths,” where three parishioners, all mothers, all people of color, all well-educated and ably expressive, spoke from their own experiences raising their children in our shared world, here in Camarillo. It had been my hope that in their sharing, other parishioners could have a window into the concerns of our fellow parishioners of color where there has been a lot of pain. Our speakers included Cynthia, who is black, Dr. Martita Martinez-Bravo, a Latina, and Nirmala Bheemisetty, who was born in India. Due to the requirements of the time, they delivered their presentation on Zoom. A healthy number of parishioners and guests from neighboring parishes participated on-line. It was a powerful evening, in which they shared their dreams for their children, the events that frightened them and hurtful things that occurred. They shared moving stories, grit and determination. I found it very moving, myself.
As that evening was taking shape, during July of 2020, Cynthia and Martita helped form the parish’s racial justice ministry. It began encouraging a number of parallel efforts to help people engage in the subject of racism in a constructive manner in a broad number of settings.
In the same year, 2020, the parish PAX Christi group used the Ignatian Examen, in which the participants take a magnifying glass to daily life, seeking to have an encounter with God, as a lens for discussing racism and reconciliation from August to November of 2020.
Parishioners also participated in the Just Faith modules that focus on racial justice. There were two groups, one of which did all three eight-week modules on this challenging topic.
In the last two years, during the Lenten season, parishioners have been invited to participate in “Stations of the Cross: Overcoming Racism” at Padre Serra. In Lent of 2021 the stations needed to be virtual, but in 2022 they were in person.
From August to December of 2020, our wonderful Seeds of Faith women’s ministry, in which Cynthia was part of the leadership team, jumped into a deep-dive of the American bishops’ pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018).
If all this wasn’t enough, Cynthia has also been on the leadership team of the Parish’s Divorce Support Group, and was a Women’s Retreat Team member in both 2019 and 2020. She has also served as a Eucharistic Minister at St. John’s Regional Hospital, and as an advanced directive notary. In the fall of 2020, she was also a founding member of the Ventura County Chapter of Catholic Relief Services.
On the last Monday of September, I drove down to the cathedral in Los Angeles for a gathering of all the priests of our archdiocese. Cynthia Jones-Campbell, who had been serving on an archdiocesan committee examining racism, came with me. The archdiocesan committee had heard of all the initiatives that Cynthia had spearheaded here at Padre Serra Parish, and wanted to use our efforts as an example to other parishes. We were invited to give a brief summary of what had happened here at Padre Serra before the assembled priests of the archdiocese, asking us to serve as a model for other parishes. It was an amazing moment!