The theme for our Advent 2021 reflection series is “We Wait in Joyful Hope,” and five sisters and associates will explore how this concept related to our Critical Concerns, even as we anticipate the great joy of the Incarnation. The series will begin with Sister Benvinda Pereira’s reflection on the concern of racism. Associate Rowshan Nemazee will reflect upon the concern of women, Sister Tita López on the Earth, Sister Deborah Troillett on immigration, and finally Sister Diane Guerin on nonviolence.
By Sister Benvinda Pereira
As the United States was beginning to write its version of the history of the Black revolution, based on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream,” I entered Mercy. Almost six decades later, once again, the nation creatively writes another chapter of its history, this time based on Black Lives Matter, and I continue to bear witness to injustice, inequality, the brutality of man’s inhumanity to humankind. As Black Catholic History Month draws to a close this year, Advent begins; we wait in joyful hope for the Savior, and still we wait for justice.
I have witnessed how racism affects—emotionally, spiritually, psychologically—people who look like me. We cannot take off or hide our black skin, making it so much easier for the target of racism to be ever on our backs. The more things change, the more they remain the same—the old adage saddens my soul. For close to six decades, my purpose in life was trying to heal the brokenness of others, trying to piece together broken fragments of their humanity with hope, compassion and a bit of medical knowledge and science. Will it have made a difference? Was hope and caring for God’s people on the fringes of humanity enough?
My faith emboldens me. I was always able to draw strength and encouragement from the sage wisdom of my elders. This faith, first nurtured in the secure womb of family, was later transplanted in Mercy to continue to fortify me for my journey. In my journeying, I observed all around me the turmoil, injustice, inequality and evil that were birthed through racism. I also bore witness firsthand to the effects of this same racism as its evil seeped into the cultural fabric of Mercy—Mercy, a microcosm of our society. The narrative of systemic institutional racism is real; it is a living entity, almost imperceptible, and it runs deep. Institutional racism cannot be viewed as simply anecdotal, nor anti-racism simply an intellectual exercise. Racism flourishes because efforts toward anti-racism fail. Failure to be an anti-racist Institute is not an option. Failure allows the evil sin of racism to slowly erode the fabric of Mercy, diminishing all that Mercy has become through the ages.
My soul has felt the surge of hope as Mercy begins to struggle through the pangs of becoming an anti-racist Institute. Standing in this moment of our history is pivotal for the anti-racist. The work is arduous and introspective. All must be willing to do it. What will the narrative of this Institute look like a decade from now? Will we still be in the process of becoming and never being an anti-racist Institute?
As I look forward to the many options that my retirement years may hold, the old Gospel hymn by Clara Ward comes to mind. “How I got over. My soul looks back and wonders, how I got over.” As I muse over these words, my soul looks back and I see the faces of my mother, my grandmother, and generation after generation of strong Black matriarchs who have emboldened my faith. Black women draped in the brilliant radiance of a faith that lives with wisdom, courage, boldness of purpose, tenacity, mercy, compassion, empathy, laughter, humor and love. It is because of their belief in me, and their willingness to carry me in their spirit, that I remain standing.
As we enter this blessed season of Advent, a season of anticipation for hope made manifest, I thank God for the creation of strong Black women. Women whose very souls were and continue to be created in resilience, the stubborn courage and determination that it takes to stand firm in faith and to do whatever it takes to live in faith, waiting in joyful hope for Mercy to embrace this faith and live as an anti-racist Institute.