Arm in arm marching together. An image of solidarity. Photos from the 1960s and beyond show civil rights activists in the U.S. standing up for justice.
Across the ocean in the 1980s observers witnessed a movement of people, whose claims are unheard, marching together at great risk against oppression. In both cases, in the U.S. with its racist practices and in Poland with its subjection to Communist totalitarianism, the human yearnings for justice and dignity faced an uncertain future. In both cases we see leaders step into the breach, motivated by Christian faith, committed to solidarity.
Our country rightly celebrates the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was indeed a pastor, a religious leader, and his faith in Jesus Christ was the source of his consequential convictions and courage. In Poland, though the government was reluctant, a global religious leader was permitted to make a public appearance in 1979. The latent demands for justice — not only for workers’ rights but for freedom to express opposing viewpoints and to exercise religion — were given life with the visit of Pope John Paul II. Many credit the nine days of the pope’s visit with the rise of the movement (the Solidarity movement) that brought collapse to the Soviet Union. All that without a conventional war. Rather, many Polish people risked injury and death as martial law was imposed, as jobs were taken away, or as people were secretly kidnapped and executed. But they persevered in faith and in solidarity with each other.
Dr. King and Pope John Paul both invited their followers to exercise solidarity, nonviolently changing the structures of the world in breathtaking ways. We have the same capacities and the same call. Now as ever we need such solidarity.
In the U.S. we do need to examine the long-term impacts of racist policies including the long-lasting impact of the abuse and family separations that enslaved persons endured for generations. Consider also the impact of the the race-specific discrimination by government (Federal Housing Administration and Homeowners Loan Corporation) programs that guaranteed home loans in the 20th century — that benefited most of our families but specifically excluded African Americans — and of the covenants written in to the property deeds that prevented sale to non-whites. These policies have had enduring impacts on financial stability, opportunity, and wellbeing. I do not have policies to propose. But as a follower of Christ, I see that solidarity must be the principle. Solidarity means heartfelt and concrete commitment to the good of all people as brothers and sisters, children who share one origin in God, equal in dignity and in rights. Catholic bishops in the U.S. have written pastoral letters against racism, rooted in this truth, each decade since the 1950s. I would encourage you to read “Open Wide Your Hearts,” found online and published in April 2018.
Now, as brothers and sisters, we are called on the path toward an ever more committed care for each other. The path toward authentic unity cannot mean the absence of hard conversations or the silencing of opposing views. But it means a sacrificial commitment to each other’s dignity. Popes have talked about a “civilization of love” and Dr. King spoke of the beloved community.
To that end, may we move forward hand in hand, embracing solidarity.