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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reflection

April 25, 2006. Recently, I attended an Unlearning Racism Workshop in Red Lake (Ontario) with the Christian Peacemaker Teams Kenora delegation. As a woman of colour, I had found the experience a bit unsettling. Since that time, I have had the wonderful good fortune to become part of a community that was formed by the people of colour from that workshop. Together we come from the four directions and in some instances from three directions in one person. We have become for each other a safe place to explore and discuss our feelings, to help each other heal from recurrent assaults on our hearts and spirits, and--by sharing-- be of help to others who know the daily assault of living in a society where racism is so entrenched that the beneficiaries of systemic racism react with genuine hurt and/or indignation when it is pointed out or discussed.

While looking at an old website that I created so long ago that I can no longer even access to modify, I came across the following item that I wrote around 1994. Walk with me...

Dear Sister,

Today, I spent the day in silence wrestling with some old wounds. However, I found a way to write them to you and also cleanse my heart of some of the anger that I've been holding in for so many years. So, I've decided to tell you the following story:



They Told Me
When I was little, before they could tell me things they told my mother. They told my grandmother. I remember when grandma went to register me in school. She promised mom that she would put me in Catholic School. Grandma was Baptist, she would insist, "Free Will Baptist". One day she decided it must be registration time, so off we went to the local Catholic Parochial School. The nun in charge seemed quite annoyed and said, "You people always come late." However, for some reason that I could not fathom her whole demeanor and attitude changed when diminutive five foot Grandma grew about two feet somehow, like cats do, and said, "What do you mean You People?" In any case Grandma's displeasure and her inference that our people are not always late had the desired effect and I was registered without further incident. Later on I wondered how sister knew anything about us people because there weren't any others in the school or among the parishioners. They told us we were always late but how many of us did they know?

During vocation week, the school was peppered with posters reminiscent of those outside military recruiting offices with Uncle Sam replaced by Jesus with the caption, "Jesus Wants You." The message was also communicated throughout the year with tactics vacillating between the soft and hard "sell". Like the other children in my class, perhaps the whole school, I began to wonder if I might have a religious vocation. I was too young to actually think in those terms but I used to go to Mass every morning before school, once I was old enough to go to school by myself.
I did quite well in school which made Grandma and mother proud. The diocesan high school took only five girls from each parochial school in our county and the next. The five were those with the highest scores on the High School Entrance Exams. The five from our Catholic Parochial School, included me. Although high school proved more difficult it was not insurmountable. It also had an extra bonus. There were more of my people there. Not many, only about 20 out of 400 girls, but at least I wasn't alone anymore.

In the second year, I felt that I had a vocation. This time the feeling was fully articulated in my mind, so I proceeded to seek advice. I went to my religion teacher, a nun, whose name I cannot remember, this forty years later. What surprise and disappointment overtook me when I heard her reply, "Make sure you choose an Order that accepts You(r) People." For ten years I had been told Jesus wants you, Jesus loves my people, that the church wants everybody to belong. How could it be that only one order in the whole United States would accept My People?



It would get worse. In my last year of high school in a course called, "Preparation for Marriage and Child Care", they called all of the girls who were one of my people to attend this special session. What I remember most about it is that we were advised that it was better to marry a Protestant that was one of our people than to marry a Catholic that was one of their people. Now, this is before Vatican II, before Catholics admitted that anyone besides a Roman Catholic could get to Heaven. All my life they told me my faith, my religion was the most important thing. Then they told me more important than religion, more important than faith, is that my people don't get married to their people.

I graduated and went away from their religion for a long time but on this continent you can't escape their people. I met some of their people who were nice and once I left my country, I met even more who were like normal, feeling human beings. But I didn't go back to the Catholic Church for a long, long time. You see, I had to figure out and choose between what Jesus said and what they told me.
Victoria Marie

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