Reflections from Parishioner Odessa Sanchez: “This subject is really hard to speak about…”

As a Catholic community this week our hearts are heavy having witnessed the brutal murder of George Floyd. Catholics of color are devastated, terrified, and exhausted by the continued systemic, institutional, and implicit racism in the United States and even at times in our own Catholic Church.

White Catholics scramble to find the words to provide support for people of color. They are ill-equipped for a national conversation that must happen in order to ally with people of color, to amplify their thoughts and ideas, and to ensure they are heard in their own voice. This week we have the privilege of sharing some thoughts from Odessa Sanchez, who was an RCIA Candidate two years ago. She and her beautiful family continue to bring Christ’s light to our Collaborative. Odessa was generous enough to share her perspective with us:

Odessa and her family at her Confirmation.

I’m hurting for myself and my black people. I worry about my black children, everyday, but today it’s harder to rest and not treat each day with dread.

As for my own family, we worship God and share the Catholic religion, so our faith will always bring me a sense of comfort. I feel welcomed and at home every time I step into St. John or St. Paul. I feel safe within the walls of my church. However I do not always feel safe from racism or violence against my race outside of church. If my son chose to run instead of walk from our house to his evening youth Mass, I would worry that a passersby who doesn’t recognize him may question his behavior.

Yes we talk about race and being stopped by police in Wellesley, all the time. I am friendly with a few officers who admit that they hope they are the one who encounters my son, if the occasion was to arise, because they “know he’s a good kid “. Imagine my fear if he were to be confused for a “bad kid”.

This subject is really hard to speak about.

Living here is harder than other places because we do have so many familiar faces that do not treat us badly so it’s unclear how to express emotions regarding systematic racism. I don’t want to send the wrong message or offend anyone so most times I stay silent. I will admit there is a great fear that my fellow Wellesley friends would look the other way if I was being treated unfairly due to fear of standing up to racism.

Many liturgies make me daydream and consider how it relates to racism in modern life. When Jesus was arrested, one of the disciples struck the temple men with a knife. Jesus scolded him and told his followers to not resist his arrest. Jesus was lead to trial and then crucified. I took from this story that Jesus must have felt so good that his friend was willing to get himself in trouble over him. I don’t advocate violence, but I would sure feel good to know a neighbor would risk themselves for me if I was being unfairly arrested.

I was asked what my friends can do? Pray, a lot. Just like I am. Understand what black people are going through. The constant scrutiny based on our skin. We are watched and judged more than any other race in this town. Think about how a situation would differ if the race was swapped out. Speak up about racism when you encounter it or witness it. Don’t stand by and be silent. Let a black person know you’re willing to risk yourself to save someone.

I’m not sure how to change this world. I’m trying to get through this best I can. I teach my children and I teach my friends. I speak out loud and I listen.

We will pray, Odessa. We will pray for justice for the victims of racism in all its forms, but particularly, lethal. We stand in solidarity with them as Catholic Christians and as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are one body, and have a responsibility to stand up against the sin of racism.