Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
March 23, 2021 // National

Catholic leaders speak out against violence toward Asian Americans

Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In the days following the March 16 shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six Asian American women, protests and vigils took place around the country remembering the victims and calling for an end to a growing wave of anti-Asian racism and violence.

“We must support all victims of violence and stand in solidarity with those who are vulnerable in our communities,” said Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer in a March 17 statement.

He also pointed out many people “endure discrimination, aggression and violence every day of their lives,” and said Christians must work to protect the whole community, speaking up against aggression and actively pursuing an end to “racism and discrimination of every kind.”

Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs, echoed the Atlanta archbishop’s call to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable.

In a March 22 statement, he said the Atlanta shootings have “prompted national dialogue on addressing anti-Asian bias that has taken the form of numerous other acts of physical violence, verbal attacks and destruction of property against those of Asian descent over the last year that have left communities across the country traumatized.”

A girl in Atlanta holds a flower March 21, 2021, during a vigil at a makeshift memorial outside the Gold Spa following the deadly shootings March 16 at three day spas in metro Atlanta. (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

The bishop said he was deeply saddened the mass shooting has “tragically taken the lives of eight people and has renewed concerns about a rise of hostility against individuals of Asian descent.”

“As bishops, we decry any kind of hatred and violence, particularly based on race, ethnicity or sex,” he said. “We pray for the families and friends of those who were lost, and for their communities, who may feel unsafe and vulnerable at this time.”

Although the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Long of Woodstock, Georgia, has been arrested and charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault for the shootings at three spas in the Atlanta metro area, he has not yet been charged with a hate crime.

Investigators are still looking into if the crimes were racially motivated or if, as Long claimed, they were committed to end his temptation because he is a sex addict.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich specifically addressed “brothers and sisters in the Asian American community” in a March 18 statement, telling them they should know the archdiocese and the entire church stands with them “in this moment of grief and horror.”

He noted there has been a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year, and that while hate crimes in general dropped 7%, this situation is intolerable.

“We pray for all who suffer racist violence and hate speech,” Cardinal Cupich said. “There can be no place for either in our society, and it is incumbent on all of us to resist language, culture and acts that denigrate Asian Americans and all people of color — because they have deadly consequences.

“We must be ever vigilant against words that inspire acts of hate — this responsibility is even greater for elected officials.”

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron also noted the Atlanta-area shootings occurred against a backdrop of an “increase in reports of verbal and physical assaults against Asians and Asian Americans” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During this time, we have witnessed with growing alarm the increase in reports of verbal and physical assaults against Asians and Asian Americans,” the archbishop said March 21.

The archbishop, who is USCCB vice president, said the Atlanta shootings “cut deep into existing wounds carved over the past year” and urged prayers for the victims and their grieving friends and families.

Days after the Atlanta shootings, President Joe Biden said he urged Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. He said the measure would expedite the federal government’s response to hate crimes that have risen during the pandemic, support state and local governments to improve hate crimes reporting and make information on hate crimes more accessible to Asian American communities.

While the Adrian Dominicans stressed the need for strong hate-crime legislation, they also said they were praying “for a profound conversion of heart among us all that we may root out the racism that continues to cause such injury to our sisters and brothers of color and to erode the moral fabric of our nation.”

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