Like many of you, I have been profoundly troubled by the white supremacist movement that seems to be gaining legitimacy across our country and around the world. Recent events in Charlottesville are just one indication that the rhetoric of hate is resonating with many disenfranchised Americans.
On a personal note, it re-opens painful wounds in my own family history. My dad escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 at the age of 16 thanks to my grandfather who had the foresight to put him on a kinder train to Palestine. He never saw his parents or other relatives again. Out of a family of 65, my dad was one of only two survivors. The rest of his family was sent to Auschwitz.
My dad later fought for the British army in World War II in Libya, Egypt and Sicily. He eventually ended up in Rome where he met my mom and her family - the classic Italian Catholic Good Samaritans who welcomed a stranger with nowhere else to go into their home.
He and my mom married and immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. They arrived with next to nothing in their pockets, but worked hard in their new country. After everything they had been through, they committed to speaking out for equality, social justice and civil rights.
They instilled those values in my brother and me. It’s one reason I am deeply drawn to Catholic health care and the legacy of the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, who have always been a voice for the voiceless.
If there’s anything we must remember about the Holocaust, it’s that no one in a million years thought anything that horrific could ever happen in civilized Europe. After all, it was the time of Einstein and Freud, some of the most gifted minds of their generation. Yet even as education and knowledge flourished, unthinkable atrocities were allowed to unfold because too many people were complacent and chose not to speak up.
We must learn from the past. We cannot be silent. We need to recognize racism when we see it and call it for what it is.
There are many Americans who are legitimately angry because of the economy and because they feel forgotten. But it is wrong for leaders to prey on their fears by creating scapegoats and blaming minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBT community or anyone who is different.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez delivered a bold homily yesterday in Los Angeles, which is one of the largest communities served by Providence St. Joseph Health. He said, “This is all wrong, and it needs to stop. Our task is to bring people together, to build bridges and open doors and make friendships among all the diverse racial and ethnic groups and nationalities in our country.”
What gives me hope are the people who live their values and have the courage to speak up and do the right thing. I am especially inspired by the 111,000 caregivers of Providence St. Joseph Health, who serve in our family of organizations across seven states. They welcome every person they encounter with love and compassion, regardless of socioeconomic background, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Respect for the dignity of every individual has been part and parcel to who we are as an organization for 160 years, and Providence St. Joseph Health will continue to be a beacon of hope and a sanctuary for all members of our society. We are one human family, and it is more important than ever for all of us, as Archbishop Gomez urged, to be “instruments of healing and unity.”