Systemic Change In a Time of National Unrest

by | Jun 3, 2020 | Formation, Justice and Peace, Reflections, Systemic change | 4 comments

The Need for Change

The death of George Floyd has drawn a variety of reactions. But there is a common thread to these reactions. Something has got change. The sticking point is in the details. WHAT needs to be changed? People operate from different starting points.  Recall the violence of the Boston Tea Party and the Civil War.

This post offers the perspectives of a Saint.  St. John Paul II was well acquainted with ethnic conflict and repression.

Advice from a Saint!

In his message for the World Day of Peace (1989) St. John Paul II  offers a path moving forward.

“We are all aware that, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, “peace is not merely the absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the

maintenance of a balance of power between enemies” (Gaudium et Spes, 78). Rather, peace is a dynamic process which must take account the many conditions and factors that can either favour it or disturb it.

The following excerpts struck me as particularly relevant.

  • There are two general principles which can never be abrogated and which constitute the basis of all social organization.
  • The first of these principles is the inalienable dignity of every human person, irrespective of racial, ethnic, cultural or national origin, or religious belief.
  • Such a right remains intact even in cases in which the group, or one of its members, acts against the common good. In such situations, the alleged abuse must be addressed by the competent authorities, without the whole group being condemned, since that would be against justice. At the same time, the members of minority groups have the duty to treat others with the same respect and sense of dignity.
  • The second principle concerns the fundamental unity of the human race,  “made one from every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth ” (Acts 17:26) .
  • The obligation to accept and defend diversity belongs not only to the State and to the groups themselves. Every individual, as a member of the one human family, ought to understand and respect the value of human diversity and direct it to the common good.
  • A mind that is open and desirous of knowing better the cultural heritage of the minority groups with which it comes into contact will help to eliminate attitudes of prejudice which hinder healthy social relations. This is a process which has to be continuously fostered, since such attitudes tend to reappear time and again under new forms.
  • I wish to restate that, in such delicate circumstances, dialogue and negotiation are the obligatory path to peace. The willingness of parties involved to meet and talk to one another is the indispensable condition for reaching an equitable solution to the complex problems that can seriously obstruct peace. And a refusal to enter into dialogue can open the door to violence.
  • In some situations of conflict, terrorist groups unduly arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to speak in the name of a minority, depriving it of the possibility of freely and openly choosing, its own representatives and of seeking a solution without intimidation.
  • In addition, the members of such minority communities too often suffer from the acts of violence wrongfully committed in their name.
  • May those who follow the inhuman path of terrorism hear my voice: to strike blindly, kill innocent people or carry out bloody reprisals does not help a just evaluation of the claims advanced by the minorities for whom they claim to act! (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 24).
  • Building this society requires a wholehearted commitment to eliminate not only evident discrimination but also all barriers that divide groups.
  • Reconciliation according to justice and with respect for the legitimate aspirations of all sectors of the community must be the rule.
  • Indeed, in a sense, respect for minorities is to be considered the touchstone of social harmony and the index of the civic maturity attained by a country and its institutions.
  • In a truly democratic society, to guarantee the participation of minorities in political life is a sign of a highly developed civilization, and it brings honor upon those nations in which all citizens are guaranteed a share in national life in a climate of true freedom.

An examination of self… not the other

  • Was there anything in what he said that I was uncomfortable with?
  • If there was, can I put into words why?
  • If I agree with these thoughts, the “Vincentian Question” is, as always…what must I do?


  1. Thomas McKenna

    Thanks, John. These points speak right to the heart of today’s issues

  2. Cindy Estrada

    I appreciate you sharing this, it was very helpful! All the best Vincentian brother <3

  3. Ross

    Among the things that this time reflection brings to mind is this famous quote from Benito Juárez (1806-1872), President of México, from 1858 to 1872:

    “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz,” that translates, “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”

    What must I do?

    I’m reminded of a similar question addressed to the warden of a prison we visited in the summer of 1965 in Trenton, NJ, to which he responded, “I wish I knew, or I’d be the Governor of NJ.”

    It’s not easy, obviously, to come by with an answer. All I do right now, in the security and safety of home, is to contemplate and worship the King of Martyrs on this memorial of St. Charles and Companion Martyrs.

    I pray that this King, who is our peace, for he broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh, enables me and others to step forward and be enveloped in the great cloud of witnesses, among whom, besides the Ugandan martyrs, are Óscar A. Romero and Franz Jägerstätter, Martin Luther King, Jr.

    I pray, too, for boldness for our shepherds, so that they may do what Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Curry and several others have done, that is, walk ahead of the sheep and witness to truth and proclaim the kingdom of God and his righteousness as freely as though they do not have anything to lose.

  4. John Freund, CM

    Listen to Pope Francis’ comments on the death of Geroge Floyd. (Two minutes)