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Katie Prejean McGrady on Catholic Social Teaching and Our Call to Justice


Friend of the show Katie Prejean McGrady discusses the “Ave Explores” series on Catholic Social Teaching and how to better aid in the fight against racism. 

Katie explains that Catholic Social Teaching encompasses how the Church cares for people and engages with the world. “We look to advocate for justice to help those most in need, and recognize that the Church doesn’t just exist as this private club where we worship in silence, but is instead a participation in the temporal world to really bring the Gospel to life. It’s something that’s essential to our faith.”

Related: Catholic Social Teaching in Action: How to Follow in the Footsteps of Holy Men and Women

“We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit the imprisoned … Jesus is going to look at some of us and say, ‘You didn’t do that. You didn’t care for me in the poor and the marginalized and the oppressed.’ So it very much is a mandate. And an invitation to really love people the way Jesus did.”

Katie reflects on keeping Catholic Social Teaching in mind while  educating herself on racism. “I’ve been reading ‘White Fragility’ and it’s been profoundly impactful on me. I guess I am pretty fragile when it comes to talking about these kinds of things. But being told that I’m fragile means that I can then confront it and I can help change the system, and help change some of the problems that seem to exist and really answer that Gospel mandate to love my brothers and sisters… The lives of our black brothers and sisters have been hurt and they feel hurt as a community of people … Nobody wants to confront that, but in the same way that when there’s a scandal, we have to confront it and learn the truth so we can fix it and learn from our mistakes. At this moment, the scandal and egregiousness of racism is being shoved in our face. And if we are not strong enough to face that as a country, then we’re doomed. As Catholics, that’s a call that we’re being given right now.”

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Katie shares an experience that she had at a Black Catholic parish, “One of my dearest friends, Fr. Daniel Green, is a diocesan priest in New Orleans. New Orleans is one of the largest black Catholic offices within their diocese. He’s the director of that office, they do parish ministry and diocesan ministry with people of color in the archdiocese. My husband and I were driving to Alabama, and we stopped in New Orleans to visit Fr. Daniel. It was my birthday and it was every perfect storm of greatness. I don’t think I knew that Fr. Daniel was at a traditionally Black parish… I walked in and thought, ‘Oh, I’ve never been in the minority in a room.’ We sit down kind of close to the back. People have their spots and we didn’t want to take anybody’s spot. This very tall man comes up to us and he introduces himself as Mr. Zion. And he says, ‘Come sit with me.’  So we sat down next to him and a lovely Mass began.” 

“I’ve never experienced Mass like this before,” Katie continues. You got amens in the homily, you got an extra hymn after the sign of peace because their choir was so incredible. Mass ended, and Father had everybody sit down. In my parish growing up, dominantly white, people are out the door after Communion But in this parish, Father introduced Tommy and me and said that when his family comes to town, he likes to do three things. He likes to pray, party, and eat. ‘So,’ he said, ‘we’re going to pray over them, we’re going to party together, and we’re going to sing Katie Happy Birthday. And then I’m taking them out to lunch.’ That’s what they did. We stood in the center and this community gathered around us. They laid hands on us. They prayed for us. They sang me happy birthday, and then we had a lovely lunch together. When we were sitting at lunch I said, ‘I go all over the country and I’ve never been in a parish community that is welcoming and that loving. Can you tell me what you’re doing?’ And Fr. Daniel said ‘We’re Black Catholics and Black Catholics are used to being on the outside. We’re used to being shoved aside and we want to make sure that anybody that comes doesn’t ever have to feel that way.’” 

LISTEN: Fr. Steven Bell on Embracing the Black Catholic Community

It was profound to me because I started thinking if some black men and women had shown up at my parish on Sunday, they would not have been welcomed the same way. They wouldn’t have been shoved to the side or told to leave, but nobody would’ve sang to them or prayed with them, even though I’ve always found this to be a very welcoming place. It struck me that even though there were such distinct differences as skin color, there was actually something uniting us, which was this Catholic faith and this love of worship and prayer together.” 

“I think it’s much easier to stay within our borders that we’ve somehow created for ourselves. I don’t even know what language to use that doesn’t sound somehow uncomfortable, but it’s just easier to not try with people that look differently than you, or that might have different life experiences.”

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“It struck me that I am maybe accusing my parish of being unwelcoming, but not thinking, why am I being unwelcoming? Am I actually reaching out to them and saying, ‘Hey, we’re happy you’re here. Do you know where you want to sit?’ It forced me to think if somebody were to come into my church, am I going to be as joyful a witness to the Gospel as those wonderful people were to us? I haven’t always done that well, but it definitely forced me to think about that. This conversation that’s happening in our country right now … systemic change has to happen. There has to be legislative things that happen to make a difference in the lives of people who have been oppressed, but there’s also a major heart change that has to happen. And the conversion of the way we think and the way we treat one another. I think that’s the moment that many of us are confronting right now.”