With the image of “Christ the Teacher” on the south façade of Hesburgh Library as a backdrop, University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., urged members of the campus community to recommit to and pray for unity and racial justice in our nation.
Organized by the Office of the President and by Campus Ministry, the “Prayer for Unity, Walk for Justice” event June 1st on the Library Quad came amid the turmoil following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, and the subsequent peaceful and violent protests there and in many other cities and towns nationwide.
In remarks to more than 1,000 attendees on campus and many more online, Father Jenkins remembered tragedies of the past, including the deaths of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as those of more recent times, from Eric Garner to Breonna Taylor to the congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We gather tonight not just to reflect on police violence against a single man in Minneapolis,” Father Jenkins said, “but on a legacy of violence, often conducted with impunity, against black men in our nation. We confront the heavy burden of a legacy of racism.”
In preparing his remarks, Father Jenkins said he found it difficult to find the right words.
“If it were only a matter of a bad police officer, and bad police tactics in Minneapolis, we might know how to respond,” he said. “These were present in Mr. Floyd’s case, but to focus only on those facts is to miss the point, to miss the reason for the outrage. The challenge is deeper, more enduring, more tragic and more daunting. It is difficult to find words adequate to respond to that challenge.
“I will say this. To black colleagues, students and friends: I am so sorry for the pain you are suffering. Several of you told me you wept when you saw the terrible video from Minneapolis. No doubt there has been a mixture of sadness, rage and despair as these killings go on. We are all responsible for combating the legacy of racism, but its burden falls on you. You no doubt have felt the weight of that burden intensely in the past week. I am sorry.”
Father Jenkins acknowledged the dedication of police officers who put their lives on the line daily, and urged people to not allow the actions of the few to “smear the work and reputation of the thousands of good officers who serve us.”
He took hope from the protests of the past week. “We need an outcry,” he said.
But, he added, “As welcome as protests have been, the violence, the burning, the shooting will not serve the cause of justice. It will only perpetuate the violence.”
“Perhaps, though,” he continued, “the message is not only that we should not allow violence into protests, but we should not allow violence and hatred into our hearts. We should be angry, but we should not let the hatred that leads to violence take hold in our hearts. It not only destroys us, but makes us less effective in serving our cause.”
The president concluded by saying, “Let us pray for Mr. Floyd. Let us pray for his grieving family and friends. Let us pray for our black colleagues and friends. Let us pray for an awakening in the hearts of those of us who are white to demand an end to the legacy of racial violence. Let us pray for our nation.”
The “Prayer for Unity, Walk for Justice” was led by Rev. Pete McCormick, C.S.C., director of Campus Ministry, and included a welcome from Arnel Bulaoro, Notre Dame’s interim director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services; an opening prayer from Jo Cecilio, the rector of Cavanaugh Hall; a reading from Acts 2:1-11 by 2020 Notre Dame graduate Christian Arega; intercessions as read by Notre Dame Police Department Chief Keri Kei Shibata; remarks from Jeff Musema, the incoming president of Wabruda and a closing prayer from Rev. Hugh R. Page Jr., vice president and associate provost.
Following the event on the Library Quad, Father Jenkins and Shibata led participants on a walk for justice from the Main Quad to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes to leave candles and pray individually for unity and justice.
Participants and attendees in the service were asked to abide by social distancing guidelines and wear masks as part of the University’s commitment to health and safety in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.