Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas has been a strong voice on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers at the nation’s southern border.
Earlier this year, he presented prayers cards to Pope Francis that bore the photos of migrant children who had died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. A few months later, he escorted a group of migrants across the U.S.-Mexican border who had previously been denied asylum, describing their plight as “an affront to human rights and human dignity.”
But the Aug. 3 mass shooting that left 22 people dead in an El Paso Walmart really seems to have moved Bishop Seitz to speak out against the resurgent racist and nativist ideology that reportedly motivated the gunman, a white nationalist, to target Hispanic people in that border city.
“Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy,” Bishop Seitz writes in his forceful pastoral letter, “Night Will Be No More,” released in mid-October.
In that letter, Bishop Seitz describes challenging racism and white supremacy as “a Christian imperative.” He calls out “our highest elected officials” for repeatedly using loaded words like “invasion” and “killer” to refer to migrants, and decried the government’s treatment of migrant children “as pawns on a crass political chessboard.” The bishop even described President Donald Trump’s promised border wall as a “monument to hate” that has helped “to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects.”
More recently, Bishop Seitz – who has become a target of criticism among some Catholics on the Right – wrote a small article that introduces the themes in the pastoral letter. I received a copy of the article from the Hope Border Institute, a nonprofit in the El Paso-Cuidad Juarez region that advocates for migrants and border policy through a Catholic Social Teaching lens. I am reprinting it below with their permission.
By Most Reverend Mark J. Seitz, DD
When shots rang out on that fateful Saturday morning Aug. 3 – [now more than] three months ago — it represented far more than a random group of weekend shoppers being assaulted by a young man on the lunatic fringe. He apparently saw himself as a warrior who had traveled nearly 700 miles to take his position on the front lines in a war to save white Americans from an invasion by Mexicans and other brown-skinned invaders from the south. He saw them as killers, rapists, drug dealers, criminals massing on our border with Mexico intent on destroying our nation.
There have always been people with his point of view in America. Archbishop Charles Chaput was right when he referred to racism as “America’s original sin.” There have always been those enamored of the false myth that America’s manifest destiny, an expression of God’s providential design, was to spread the ‘white race’ in their superior ruling qualities from sea to shining sea.
Americans have waged a long battle with various expressions of this hegemony throughout our history. We fought a Civil War that almost permanently tore apart the United States to win people of African origin freedom from slavery. In relatively less open combat America has continued to fight these demons as they emerge time and again.
We have made some progress, with the terrible exception of the unborn child, in recognizing that every human being is truly “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable gifts” as our Founders had once declared.
But an original sin is not easily wiped away. Clever politicians learned to dance with ancient demons to whip up ancient myths and ancient fears into a frenzy. Calling out to those fears they described a southern border that was, according to their narrative, a scene of confrontation, of a new battle between pure-bred Americans and aliens. Looking askance at those already here — even for many generations — they placed into question the patriotism and judicial objectivity of judges. They scorned legislators who held opposing opinions.
We must ackowledge these verbal attacks, this divisive and false narrative, this type of speech which we might dub “racist lite,” can have deadly implications. It was this kind of speech that emboldened white supremacists to arm themselves with weapons of war for battle against an invading army made up of families fleeing for their lives from narco-gang violence in Latin America. It was this kind of speech that has turned the border between two friendly countries into an armed camp. It was this kind of speech that led young Patrick Crucius 700 miles from his home to slaughter innocent shoppers on August 3.
We can not stand by silently and allow the demons of fear overtake us. As I stated in “Night Will be no More” (https://www.hopeborder.org/nightwillbenomore), “We must recommit ourselves to the hospitality and compassion that characterized our community long before we were attacked, with all the risk and vulnerability which that entails. We must continue to show the rest of the country that love is capable of mending every wound. What can they do but threaten us with Resurrection?”