“When you drive through that neighborhood, don’t get out of your car. You’re white, and you could get shot because of it,” a friend warned us years ago. Yesterday, my family drove through those neighborhoods, trying to figure our way back to the main road after parking at the State Fair.
Compounding that warning was a Wisconsin incident this past week where there was a mob uprising late at night at their state fair, where white passengers were targeted, dragged out of their cars, and beaten.
When I was 10, I lived in Louisiana in a hotbed of racism where our family’s pastor had a cross burned in his yard by the Klan. When I was 15, I lived in a neighborhood among hookers and dealers. My mission as a mother is to give my children a better childhood and life than I had. Racism and violence are horrible in all forms, and I worried for my kids’ safety when we drove through those neighborhoods.
We had just enough time to make it to a parish Mass, and we stumbled along our way to find the parish we had never before seen. Where’s the church? When we found it, we were pretty much out of “that” neighborhood. I still worried. “Are there any white people on this street? If not, I don’t want to go in,” I told my family.
“That’s sad, Mom. Race shouldn’t matter,” my son commented.
“You’re right. But we need to stay safe,” I answered. We saw a white family and got out. “Will our car be ok?” I continued.
“The car will be fine. We’re here. God will take care of any problems,” my husband answered.
We walked into the parish, a humble church with about 50 people worshiping. Mass began 60 seconds after we walked in the door. I relaxed in the universal responses of the Kyrie and standing during the Gospel reading. As I looked around, I realized there were other whites in the congregation, but we were absolutely the minority race present. During the homily, the priest discussed Elijah’s hearing God in the silence instead of the bustle around us.
After we prayed the Our Father together, the congregation gave its own twist to the exchange of peace. Members crossed the sanctuary to hug and greet each other. Several deliberately came to us, shook our hands, and welcomed us to their home of worship. We joined together during the Eucharist. Jesus was not only present but once again working in our lives. We just had to be still enough to listen.
At the conclusion of the service, the priest welcomed visitors, and asked each group in turn what brought them to the parish – others from the State Fair were also present. Afterwards, a greeter came to us and asked how our day at the State Fair had been. She encouraged our kids and invited us to return next time we visit the State Fair. We were the strangers made welcome.
As we left and returned to our car, the sun was shining brighter. I no longer saw the neighborhood but instead saw hope. Each time we reach above racism and violence, we do our own part to reduce their impact.
As I listened, I was reminded our universal faith isn’t just expressed in our responses in Mass. It’s how Jesus Christ works through us all to honor human dignity.
Yes, it’s worth it before every out of town trip to pour over masstimes, look at our map and schedule, and figure out how to squeeze Mass into the weekend. We learn a lot more about other communities worshiping together than we do just driving through town.