Lent 2021, Day 24: Repentance AND Reparations AND Reconciliation.

Joseph Stewart, president of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, holding a cross with cotton that he picked as a child in Louisiana.[Saul Martinez for The New York Times]

Good news from Rachel L. Swarns at The New York Times:

In one of the largest efforts by an institution to atone for slavery, a prominent order of Catholic priests has vowed to raise $100 million to benefit the descendants of the enslaved people it once owned and to promote racial reconciliation initiatives across the United States.

The move by the leaders of the Jesuit conference of priests represents the largest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to make amends for the buying, selling and enslavement of Black people, church officials and historians said.

The pledge comes at a time when calls for reparations are ringing through Congress, college campuses, church basements and town halls, as leaders grapple with the painful legacies of segregation and the nation’s system of involuntary servitude.

“This is an opportunity for Jesuits to begin a very serious process of truth and reconciliation,” said the Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. “Our shameful history of Jesuit slaveholding in the United States has been taken off the dusty shelf, and it can never be put back.”

A document inside St. Ignatius Church in Port Tobacco, Md., lists the names of the enslaved people sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep Georgetown University afloat. [Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times]

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years from Christian churches and groups about reparations, but this is one of the few times I can recall any actually moving from “talking” to “walking,” or living out their supposed convictions regarding the harm done to African Americans. More from the Times:

The money raised by the Jesuits will flow into a new foundation established in partnership with a group of descendants, who pressed for negotiations with the Jesuits after learning from a series of articles in The New York Times that their ancestors had been sold in 1838. The order relied on slave labor and slave sales for more than a century to sustain the clergy and to help finance the construction and the day-to-day operations of churches and schools, including the nation’s first Catholic institution of higher learning, the college now known as Georgetown University.

Father Kesicki said his order had already deposited $15 million into a trust established to support the foundation, whose governing board will include representatives from other institutions with roots in slavery. The Jesuits have also hired a national fund-raising firm with a goal of raising the rest within the next three to five years, he said.

The pledge falls short of the $1 billion that descendant leaders had called on the Jesuits to raise. Father Kesicki and Joseph M. Stewart, the acting president of the newly created foundation, the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, said that remained a long-term goal as the organization moves to support institutions and initiatives focused on racial healing.

“We now have a pathway forward that has not been traveled before,” said Mr. Stewart, a retired corporate executive whose ancestors were sold in 1838 to help save Georgetown from financial ruin.

“This is an opportunity for Jesuits to begin a very serious process of truth and reconciliation,” said the Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. [Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times]

And there are some other ministries who have been putting in some work. More:

Faith institutions have been at the forefront of the growing reparations movement. In 2018, the Catholic sisters of the Religious of the Sacred Heart created a reparations fund to finance scholarships for African-Americans in Grand Coteau, La., where the nuns had owned about 150 Black people.

The following year, Virginia Theological Seminary, which relied on enslaved laborers, created a $1.7 million reparations fund, and Princeton Theological Seminary announced it would spend $27 million on scholarships and other initiatives to make amends for its ties to slavery.

Several Episcopal dioceses with ties to slavery — including ones in Maryland, New York and Texas — have also created reparations funds.

Read the whole article here.

gimme some more
  • How important do you think it is for Christian groups to pursue reparations?
  • Reflection: are there any actions you should take in your personal life to atone for past sins committed against others?

Share your thoughts