1. Racial prejudice or racist behavior continues to trouble
relations between persons, human groups and nations. Public opinion is
increasingly incensed by it. Moral conscience can by no means accept it.
The Church is especially sensitive to this discriminatory attitude. The
message which she has drawn from biblical Revelation strongly affirms
the dignity of every person created in God's image, the unity of
humankind in the Creator's plan, and the dynamics of the reconciliation
worked by Christ the Redeemer who has broken down the dividing wall
which kept opposing worlds apart(1) in order to recapitulate all persons
For this reason, the Holy Father asked the Pontifical Commission Justice
and Peace to help enlighten and awaken consciences about this major
concern: namely, the reciprocal respect between ethnic and racial groups
as well as their fraternal coexistence. Such a task presupposes a lucid
analysis of complex situations of both past and present, as well as an
unbiased judgment about moral shortcomings and positive initiatives, in
the light of fundamental ethical principles and the Christian message.
Christ denounced evil, even at the risk of his life. He did this not to
condemn but to save. Likewise, the Holy See feels that it has the duty
to denounce deplorable situations prophetically. In so doing, it is
careful, however, not to condemn or exclude persons. It wants, rather,
to help them find a way out of such situations through concrete and
progressive efforts. It wishes, with all due realism, to reinforce the
hope of renewal, which is always possible, and to propose suitable
pastoral guidelines for Christians and all people of good will who seek
the same objectives.
This document sets out to examine, in the first place, the phenomenon of
racism in the strict sense. On occasion, however, it also treats some
other manifestations of conflictual attitudes, intolerance and
prejudice, insofar as these have a kinship with racism or contain racist
elements. In the light of its principal focus, the document thus notes
the bonds which exist between certain conflicts and racial prejudice.
I. Racist Behavior Throughout History
NOTE: No attempt is made here to trace a complete history of racism, nor
of the attitude of the Church in this regard. Rather, some highlights of
this history are indicated, emphasizing the consistency of the teaching
of the Magisterium concerning the phenomenon of racism. This by no means
implies an effort to gloss over the weakness and even, at times, the
complicity of certain Church leaders, as well as of other members of the
Church, in this phenomenon.
2. Racist ideologies and behavior are long-standing: they are rooted in
the reality of sin from the very beginning of humanity, as we can see in
the biblical accounts of Cain and Abel as well as in that of the Tower
Historically, racial prejudice, in the strict sense of the word-that is,
awareness of the biologically determined superiority of one's own race
or ethnic group with respect to others-developed above all from the
practice of colonization and slavery at the dawn of the modern era. In
rapidly considering the history of earlier major civilizations in the
West as in the East, in the North as in the South, one can already find
unjust and discriminatory behavior, but one cannot in every case speak
about racism as such.
Greco-Roman antiquity, for example, does not seem to have known racial
myths. If the Greeks were convinced of the cultural superiority of their
civilization, they did not, by the same token, consider the so-called
"barbarians" inferior because of innate biological reasons.
Slavery doubtlessly kept many people in a deplorable situation. They
were considered "things" at their masters' disposal. However,
in the beginning, these were largely persons who belonged to groups
conquered in war, and not persons who were despised because of their
The Hebrew people, as the Books of the Old Testament testify, were aware
to a unique degree of God's love for them, manifested in the form of a
gratuitous covenant with him. In this sense, since they were the object
of a choice and a promise, the Hebrew people stood apart from others.
The criterion of distinction, however, was God's plan of salvation
unfolded in history Israel was considered the Lord's very own among all
peoples.(2) The place of other peoples in salvation history was not
always clearly understood in the beginning, and these other peoples were
at times even stigmatized in prophetic preaching to the degree that they
remained attached to idolatry. They were not, however, the object of
disparagement or of a divine curse because of their ethnic diversity.
The criterion of distinction was religious, and a certain universalism
was already foreseen.
According to the message of Christ, for which the people of the Old
Covenant were to prepare humanity, salvation is offered to the whole of
the human race, to every creature and to all nations.(3) The first
Christians gladly accepted being considered as the people of a
"third race," according to an expression of Tertullian.(4)
This clearly was not to be understood in a racial sense, but rather in
the spiritual sense. They considered themselves a new people in whom the
first two races from a religious perspective, that is the Jews and the
pagans, met, having been reconciled by Christ. The Christian Middle Ages
also made distinctions among peoples on the basis of religious criteria;
Christians, Jews and "infidels." It is for this reason that,
within "Christendom," the Jews, considered the tenacious
witnesses of a refusal to believe in Christ, were often the object of
serious humiliations, accusations and proscriptions.
3. With the discovery of the New World, attitudes changed. The first
great wave of European colonization was, in fact, accompanied by a
massive destruction of pre-Colombian civilizations and a brutal
enslavement of their peoples. If the great navigators of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries were free from racial prejudices, the soldiers
and traders did not have the same respect for others: they killed in
order to take possession of the land, and reduced first the
"Indians" and then the blacks to slavery in order to exploit
At the same time, they began to develop a racist theory in order to
justify their actions.
The popes did not delay in reacting. On June 2, 1537, the bull Sublimis
Deus of Paul III denounced those who held that "the inhabitants of
the West Indies and the southern continents...should be treated like
irrational animals and used exclusively for our profit and our
service" The Pope solemnly affirmed that: "In the desire to
remedy the evil which has been caused, We hereby decide and declare that
the said Indians, as well as any other peoples which Christianity will
come to know in the future, must not be deprived of their freedom and
their possessions-regardless of contrary allegations-even if they are
not Christians and that, on the contrary, they must be left to enjoy
their freedom and their possessions."(5) The directives of the Holy
See were extremely clear even if, unhappily, their application soon met
with difficulties. Later Urban VIII went so far as to excommunicate
those who kept Indians as slaves.
For their part, theologians and missionaries had already come to the
defense of the indigenous people. The resolute commitment on the side of
the Indians of Bartolome de Las Casas, a soldier who became a priest,
then a Dominican religious and bishop, was soon taken up by many other
missionaries. It led the governments of Spain and Portugal to reject the
theory of the human inferiority of the Indians, and to impose protective
legislation from which, a century later, the black slaves brought from
Africa would also benefit in a certain way. The work of Las Casas is one
of the first contributions to the doctrine of universal human rights,
based on the dignity of the person, regardless of his or her ethnic or
religious affiliation. In the same way, the great Spanish theologians
and jurists, Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suarez, pioneers of the
rights of peoples, developed this same doctrine of the basic equality of
all persons and of all peoples. However, the close dependency of the
clergy of the New World on the patronage system meant that the Church
was not always able to take the necessary pastoral decisions.
4. In the context of racial contempt-although the motive was primarily
to obtain cheap labor-mention must be made of the slave trade of blacks
from Africa, bought by the hundreds of thousands and brought to the
Americas. Their capture and traveling conditions were such that many
died, even before their departure or their arrival in the New World.
There they were destined to the most menial tasks, to all intents and
purposes as slaves. This trade began in 1562 and the slavery that
resulted was to last nearly three centuries. Here once again, the popes
and theologians, at the same time as numerous humanists, rose up against
this practice. Leo XIII vigorously denounced it in his encyclical In
plurimis of May 5, 1888, in which he congratulated Brazil for having
abolished slavery. The publication of this present document coincides
with the centenary of that memorable charter. John Paul II, in his
speech to African intellectuals in Yaounde (August 13, 1985), did not
hesitate to deplore the fact that persons belonging to Christian nations
had contributed to the black slave trade.
5. Because of its constant concern for the deeper respect of indigenous
peoples, the Apostolic See again and again insisted that a careful
distinction be made between the work of evangelization and colonial
imperialism, with which the former risked being confused. It is in this
spirit that the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide was created in
1622. In 1659, that Congregation addressed an Instruction "to
Apostolic Vicars departing for the Chinese Kingdoms of Tankin and
Cochinchine" that clarified the Church's attitude toward these
peoples to whom she then had the possibility of announcing the
In places where missionaries were more closely dependent on political
powers, it was more difficult for them to curb the colonists' attempt to
dominate. At times, they even gave it encouragement on the basis of
false interpretations of the Bible.(7)
6. In the eighteenth century, a veritable racist ideology, opposed to
the teaching of the Church, was forged. It stood in contrast, moreover,
with the commitment of some humanist philosophers who promoted the
dignity and freedom of the black slaves, at that time the object of a
shameless and widespread trade. This racist ideology believed it could
find the justification for its prejudices in science. Apart from the
difference in physical characteristics and skin color, it sought to
deduce an essential difference, of a hereditary, biological nature, in
order to affirm that the subjugated peoples belonged to intrinsically
inferior "races" with regard to their mental, moral or social
qualities. It was at the end of the eighteenth century that the word
"race" was used for the first time to classify human beings
biologically. In the following century, we can even find an
interpretation of the history of civilizations in biological terms, as a
contest between strong races and weak ones, with the latter being
genetically inferior to the former. The decadence of the major
civilizations was explained by their "degeneration"-i.e., the
mixing of races which weakened the purity of blood.(8)
7. Such theses had considerable resonance in Germany. It is well known
that the National-Socialist totalitarian party made a racist ideology
the basis of its insane program, aimed at the physical elimination of
those it deemed belonging to "inferior races." This party
became responsible for one of the greatest genocides in history. This
murderous folly struck first and foremost the Jewish people in
unheard-of proportions, as well as other peoples, such as the Gypsies
and the Tziganes, and also categories of persons such as the handicapped
and the mentally ill. It was only a step from racism to eugenics, and it
was quickly taken.
The Church did not hesitate to raise her voice.(9) Pope Pius XI clearly
condemned Nazi doctrines in his encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge,
stating in particular: "Whosoever takes race, or the people or the
State...or any other basic value of the human community...in order to
withdraw them from [their] scale of values...and deify them through an
idolatrous cult, overturns and falsifies the order of things created and
established by God."(10) On April 13, 1938, the pope had the Sacred
Congregation for Seminaries and Universities address a letter to all
rectors and deans of faculties, asking all professors of theology to
refute, using the method proper to each discipline, the scientific
pseudo-truths with which Nazism justified its racist ideologies.(11) As
early as 1937, Pius XI had begun to prepare another major encyclical on
the unity of the human race which was to condemn racism and
anti-Semitism. Death overtook him before he could make it public. His
successor, Pope Pius XII, took certain elements from it for his first
encyclical, Summi Pontificatus,(12) and especially from his 1942
Christmas message in which he stated that among the erroneous postulates
of juridical positivisms "must be included a theory which claims
for such and such a nation, race, class, the 'juridical instinct,'
supreme imperative and norm without appeal." The pope launched a
vibrant appeal for a new and better social order: "Humanity owes
such a commitment to hundreds of thousands of persons who, without the
slightest guilt on their part, but simply because they belong to a given
race or nationality, are doomed to death or to gradual
extinction."(13) In Germany itself, there was a courageous
resistance on the part of the Catholic Church to which Pope John Paul II
referred on April 30, 1987(14) during his second visit to that country.
This insistence on the drama of Nazi racism should not make us forget
other massive exterminations of populations, such as that of the
Armenians right after World War I and, more recently, for ideological
reasons, that of an important part of the Cambodian people.
The memory of such crimes must never be erased. The young generations
and those yet to come must know to what extremes persons and society are
capable of going when they yield to the power of scorn and hatred.
In Africa and Asia, there are societies in which there is still a sharp
division of castes as well as social stratifications that are difficult
to overcome. The phenomenon of slavery, once more or less universal in
both time and space, has not unfortunately totally disappeared. Such
negative signs-and many others could be enumerated-are not always rooted
in racist philosophical conceptions in the strict sense but instead
reveal the existence of a rather widespread and troubling tendency to
use other human beings for one's own ends and, by that very fact, to
consider them of lesser value and, as it were, of an inferior status.
II. Forms of Racism Today
8. Today racism has not disappeared. There are even troubling new
manifestations of it here and there in various forms, be they
spontaneous, officially tolerated or institutionalized. In fact, if
cases of segregation based on racial theories are the exception in
today's world, the same cannot be said about phenomena of exclusion or
aggressivity. The victims are certain groups of persons whose physical
appearance or ethnic, cultural or religious characteristics are
different from those of the dominant group, and are interpreted by the
latter as being signs of an innate and definitive inferiority, thereby
justifying all discriminatory practices in their regard. If, in fact,
race defines a human group in terms of immutable and hereditary physical
traits, racist prejudice, which dictates racist behavior, can be applied
by extension, with equally negative effects, to all persons whose ethnic
origin, language, religion or customs make them appear different.
9. The most obvious form of racism, in the strictest sense of the word,
to be found today is institutionalized racism. This type is still
sanctioned by the constitution and laws of a country. It is justified by
an ideology of the superiority of persons from European stock over those
of African or Indian origin "colored," which is, by some,
supported by an erroneous interpretation of the Bible. This is the
regime of apartheid or of "separate development." This regime
in the Republic of South Africa has long been characterized by a radical
segregation in vast areas of public life, between the black, colored,
Indian and white peoples, with only the latter, although numerically a
minority, holding political power and considering themselves masters of
by far the greatest part of the territory. All South Africans are
defined by a race to which they are officially assigned. Although some
steps towards change have been taken in recent years, the black majority
of the population remains excluded from effective representation in
national government and enjoys citizenship in word only. Many are
relegated to "homelands" which are hardly capable of being
self-sustaining and are, moreover, economically and politically
dependent on the central power. The majority of Christian Churches of
that country have denounced the segregationist policy. The international
community(15) and the Holy See(16) have also made strong pronouncements
in this regard.
South Africa is an extreme case of a vision of racial inequality. The
prolongation of a state of repression, of which the majority of the
population is victim, is less and less tolerated. Such a situation
carries within it the seed of racist reflexes on the part of the
oppressed, which would be as unacceptable as those of which they are
victim today. For this reason, it is urgent that these prejudices be
overcome in order to build the future on the principle of the equal
dignity of every person. Experience has shown, moreover, that peaceful
evolutions are possible in this regard. The entire South African
community, as well as the international community, must make every
effort to promote a concrete dialogue between the principal parties
involved. It is important that the fear which causes so much
inflexibility be banished. And it is just as important to avoid allowing
internal conflicts to be exploited by others to the detriment of justice
10. In some countries, forms of racial discrimination still persist with
regard to aboriginal peoples. In many cases, these peoples are no more
than the remaining vestiges of the original populations of the region,
the survivors of veritable genocides carried out in the not too distant
past by the invaders, or tolerated by the colonial powers. It is also
not uncommon to find these aboriginal peoples marginalized with respect
to the country's development.
In many cases, their situation is similar in fact, if not in law, to
segregationist regimes, in that they are relegated to limited
territories or subjected to statutes which the new occupants of the
country have, in most cases, unilaterally granted to them. The right of
the first occupants to land, and a social and political organization
which would allow them to preserve their cultural identity while
remaining open to others, must be guaranteed. With regard to indigenous
peoples, often numerically small, justice demands that two opposing
risks be avoided: on the one hand, that they be relegated to
reservations as if they were to live there forever, trapped in their
past; on the other hand, that they be forced to assimilate without any
concern for their right to maintain their own identity. Solutions are
indeed difficult, and history cannot be rewritten. However, forms of
coexistence can be found which take into consideration the vulnerability
of autochthonous groups and offer them the possibility of maintaining
their own identity within the greater whole to which they belong with
all due rights. The greater or lesser degree of their integration into
the surrounding society must be made on the basis of a free choice.(18)
11. Other States still have varying traces of discriminatory legislation
which limit to one degree or another the civil and religious rights of
those belonging to religious minorities which are generally of different
ethnic groups from those of the majority of the citizens. On the basis
of such religious and ethnic criteria, even though they are granted
hospitality, the members of these minorities cannot, if they request it,
obtain citizenship in the country where they live and work. It also
happens that conversion to the Christian faith brings about a loss of
citizenship. These persons, at any rate, remain second-class citizens
with regard, for instance, to higher education, to housing, to
employment and especially to public and administrative services in local
communities. In this context, mention must also be made of those
situations where a particular religious law, with its consequences for
day-to-day living, is imposed on other communities within the same
country, as, for example, the "sharia" in some predominantly
12. Some mention must also be made of ethnocentricity. This is a very
widespread attitude whereby a people has a natural tendency to defend
its identity by denigrating that of others to the point that, at least
symbolically, it refuses to recognize their full human quality. This
behavior undoubtedly responds to an instinctive need to protect the
values, beliefs and customs of one's own community which seem threatened
by those of other communities. However, it is easy to see to what
extremes such a feeling can lead if it is not purified and relativized
through a reciprocal openness, thanks to objective information and
mutual exchanges. The rejection of differences can lead to that form of
cultural annihilation which sociologists have called
"ethnocide" and which does not tolerate the presence of others
except to the extent that they allow themselves to be assimilated into
the dominant culture.
Rarely do the political boundaries of a country coincide perfectly with
those of peoples. Almost all States, whether of recent or ancient
foundation, experience the problems of diverse minorities settled within
their borders. When the rights of minorities are not respected,
antagonisms can take on the aspect of ethnic conflicts and give rise to
racist and tribal reflexes. The disappearance of colonial regimes or
situations of racial discrimination has therefore not always meant the
end of racism in States which have become independent in Africa and
Asia. Within the artificial borders left behind by the colonial powers,
cohabitation by ethnic groups with different traditions, languages,
cultures and even religions, often runs up against obstacles of mutual
hostilities that can be characterized as racist. Tribal oppositions at
times endanger, if not peace, at least the pursuit of the common good of
the society as a whole. They also create difficulties for the life of
the Churches and the acceptance of pastors from other ethnic groups.
Even when the constitutions of these countries formally affirm the
equality of all citizens with regard to one another and before the law,
it is not rare that some ethnic groups dominate others and refuse them
the full enjoyment of their rights.(19) At times, such situations have,
indeed, led to bloody conflicts which leave lasting impressions. Still
again, at times, public authorities have not hesitated to utilize ethnic
rivalries to distract people from internal problems, to the great
detriment of the common good and of justice which they are called to
It is important to mention some analogous situations, such as when, for
complex reasons, entire populations are kept uprooted, as refugees from
the country where they had legitimately settled. They are often
homeless, and in any case without a country. There are other peoples
who, although living in their own land, are subjected to humiliating
13. It is not an exaggeration to say that within a given country or
ethnic group forms of social racism can exist. For example, great masses
of poor peasants can be treated without any regard for their dignity and
their rights, be driven from their lands, exploited and kept in a
situation of economic and social inferiority by all-powerful land owners
who benefit from the indifference or active complicity of the
authorities. These are new forms of slavery which are frequent in the
Third World. There is no great difference between those who consider
others their inferiors because of their race, and those who treat their
fellow citizens as inferiors by exploiting them as a work force. In such
situations, the universal principles of social justice must be applied
effectively. Among other things, this would also prevent the
over-privileged classes from sinking to actual "racist"
feelings toward their own fellow citizens and finding in them a further
alibi for maintaining unjust structures.
14. The phenomenon of spontaneous racism is still more widespread,
especially in countries with high rates of immigration. This can be
observed among the inhabitants of these countries with regard to
foreigners, especially when the latter differ in their ethnic origin or
religion. The prejudices which these immigrants frequently encounter
risk setting into motion reactions which can find their first
manifestation in an exaggerated nationalism-which goes beyond legitimate
pride in one's own country or even superficial chauvinism. Such
reactions can subsequently degenerate into xenophobia or even racial
hatred. These reprehensible attitudes have their origin in the
irrational fear which the presence of others and confrontation with
differences can often provoke. Such attitudes have as their goal,
whether acknowledged or not, to deny the other the right to be what he
or she is and, in any case, to be "in our country." Of course,
there can be problems of maintaining a balance between peoples, cultural
identity and security. These problems, however, must be solved with
respect for others and confidence in the enrichment that comes from
human diversity. Some large countries of the New World have found
increased vitality in the melting-pot of cultures. On the other hand,
the ostracism and the harassment of which refugees and immigrants are
too often the object are deplorable. The result is that they are forced
to cling to one another, and to live, so to speak, in a ghetto which
slows down their integration into the society which has received them
administratively but which has not welcomed them in a fully human way.
15. Among the manifestations of systematic racial distrust, specific
mention must once again be made of anti-Semitism. If anti-Semitism has
been the most tragic form that racist ideology has assumed in our
century, with the horrors of the Jewish "holocaust,"(21) It
has unfortunately not yet entirely disappeared. As if some had nothing
to learn from the crimes of the past, certain organizations, with
branches in many countries, keep alive the anti-Semite racist myth, with
the support of networks of publications. Terrorist acts which have
Jewish persons or symbols as their target have multiplied in recent
years and show the radicalism of such groups. Anti-Zionism- which is not
of the same order, since it questions the State of Israel and its
policies-serves at times as a screen for anti-Semitism, feeding on it
and leading to it. Furthermore, some countries impose undue harassments
and restrictions on the free emigration of Jews.
16. There is widespread fear that new and as yet unknown forms of racism
might appear. This at times is expressed concerning the use that could
be made of "techniques of artificial procreation" through in
vitro fertilization and the possibilities of genetic manipulation.
Although such fears are still in part hypothetical, they nonetheless
draw the attention of humanity to the new and disquieting dimension of
man's power over man and thus to the urgent need for corresponding
ethical principles. It is important that laws determine as soon as
possible the limits which must not be surpassed, so that such
"techniques" will not fall into the hands of abusive and
irresponsible powers who might seek to "produce" human beings
selected according to racial criteria or any other characteristic. This
would give rise to a resurgence of the deadly myth of eugenic racism,
the misdeeds of which the world has already experienced."(22) A
similar abuse would be to prevent the birth of human beings of one or
another social or ethnic category through abortion and sterilization
campaigns. Wherever the absolute respect for life and its transmission
according to the Creator's intentions disappears, it is to be feared
that all moral restraint on a person's power will also disappear,
including the power to fashion humanity in the derisive image of these
In order firmly to reject such actions and eradicate racist behavior of
all sorts from our societies as well as the mentalities that lead to it,
we must hold strongly to convictions about the dignity of every human
person and the unity of the human family. Morality flows from these
convictions. Laws can contribute to protecting the basic application of
this morality, but they are not enough to change the human heart. The
moment has come to listen to the message of the Church which gives body
to and lays the foundation for such convictions.
III. The Dignity of Every Race and the Unity of
Humankind: The Christian Vision
17. The Christian doctrine about the human person has developed from and
is enlightened by biblical Revelation, as well as from a continuous
confrontation with the aspirations and experiences of peoples. This
doctrine has inspired the Church's attitudes, as we have already
mentioned, throughout history. It has been clearly taken up and
synthesized for our time by the Second Vatican Council in several key
texts. The following passage is an example of this: "All men are
endowed with a rational soul and are created in God's image; they have
the same nature and origin and, being redeemed by Christ, they enjoy the
same divine calling and destiny; there is here a basic equality between
all men and it must be given ever greater recognition.
"Undoubtedly not all men are alike as regards physical capacity and
intellectual and moral powers. But forms of social or cultural
discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race,
color, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed and
eradicated as incompatible with God's design."(23)
This doctrine has frequently been repeated by the popes and bishops. For
example, Paul VI specified when speaking to the Diplomatic Corps:
"For those who believe in God, all human beings, even the least
privileged, are sons of the universal Father who created them in his
image and guides their destinies with thoughtful love. The fatherhood of
God means brotherhood among men: this is a strong point of Christian
universalism, a common point, too, with other great religions and an
axiom of the highest human wisdom of all times, that which involves the
promotion of man's dignity."(24)
John Paul II in turn reaffirmed: "Man's creation by God `in his own
image' confers upon every human person an eminent dignity; it also
postulates the fundamental equality of all human beings. For the Church,
this equality, which is rooted in man's being, acquires the dimension of
an altogether special brotherhood through the Incarnation of the Son of
God.... In the Redemption effected by Jesus Christ the Church sees a
further basis of the rights and duties of the human person. Hence every
form of discrimination based on race...is absolutely
18. This principle of the equal dignity of all persons, of whatever
race, already finds solid support in the sciences and a firm basis in
philosophy, ethics and religions in general. The Christian faith
respects this intuition, this affirmation, and rejoices in it. It
represents a considerable convergence among the various disciplines
which reinforces the convictions of the majority of people of good will
and allows the drawing up of universal declarations, conventions and
international agreements for the protection of human rights, and the
elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. It is in this sense
that Paul VI spoke about "an axiom of the highest human wisdom of
Nevertheless, these approaches are not all of the same order and their
respective levels must be respected.
The sciences, on their part, contribute to dispelling much of the false
evidence used to justify racist behavior or to delay necessary changes.
According to a declaration prepared at UNESCO on June 8, 1951, by a
group of prominent scientists: "Experts generally recognize that
all human persons living today belong to the same species, homo sapiens,
and that they descended from one same stock."(26) But the sciences
are not sufficient to substantiate anti- racist convictions. Because of
their methods, they do not allow themselves to say the last word about
the human person and his or her destiny, and to define universal moral
rules of a binding nature for consciences.
Philosophy, ethics and the major religions are interested in the origin,
nature and destiny of human beings on a level that escapes scientific
research left to its own means. They seek to base unconditional respect
for all human life on a more decisive level than the observing of
customs and the consensus of an age, which is always fragile and
ambiguous. They can therefore, in the best of cases, adopt a
universalism which Christian doctrine bases solidly on Revelation
received from God.
19. According to biblical Revelation, God created the human being-man
and woman-in his image and likeness.(27) This bond between the human
person and the Creator provides the basis of his or her dignity and
fundamental inalienable rights of which God is the guarantor. To these
personal rights obviously correspond duties toward others. Neither the
individual nor society, the State nor any human institution can reduce a
person, or a group of persons, to the status of an object.
The belief that God is at the origin of humankind transcends, unifies
and gives meaning to all the partial observations that science can amass
about the process of evolution and the development of societies. It is
the most radical affirmation of the equal dignity of all persons in God.
With this concept, a person eludes all those manipulations of human
powers and of ideological propaganda which seek to justify the servitude
of the weakest. Faith in the one God, Creator and Redeemer of all
humankind made in his image and likeness, constitutes the absolute and
unescapable negation of any racist ideologies. It is still necessary to
draw out all the consequences of this: "We cannot truly pray to God
the Father of all if we treat any people in other than brotherly
fashion, for all men are created in God's image."(28)
20. Revelation, indeed, insists just as much on the unity of the human
family: all persons created in God have the same origin. Whatever
throughout history may have been their dispersion or the accentuation of
their differences, they are destined to form one sole family according
to God's plan established "in the beginning." In the first
man, the unity of all humankind, present and future, is typologically
affirmed. Adam-from adama, the earth-is a collective singular It is the
human species which is the "image of God." Eve, the first
woman, is called "the mother of all those who live,"(29) and
from the first couple "the human race was born,"(30) and
everyone is of the "family of Adam."(31) As St. Paul told the
Athenians: "From one single stock he...created the whole human race
so that they could occupy the entire earth," and so everyone can
say with the poet that they are of God's same "race."(32)
The choice of the Jewish people does not contradict this universalism.
It was a divine pedagogy which wanted to assure the preservation and
development of faith in the Eternal, who is unique, thus giving a basis
to the ensuing responsibilities. If the people of Israel were aware of a
special bond with God, they also affirmed that there was a Covenant of
the entire human race with him(33) and that, also in the Covenant made
with them, all peoples are called to salvation: "All the tribes of
the earth shall bless themselves by you," God told Abraham.(34)
21. The New Testament reinforces this revelation of the dignity of all
persons, their basic unity and their duty of fraternity, since all are
equally saved and gathered together by Christ.
The mystery of the Incarnation shows in what esteem God held human
nature since, in his Son, he wanted to unite it to his own nature
without any confusion or separation. In a certain way, Christ has united
himself with each person.(35) Christ is, in a unique way, "the
image of the invisible God."(36) He alone perfectly manifests God's
being in the humble human condition which he freely assumed.(37)
This is why he is the "new Adam," the prototype of a new
humanity, "the eldest of many brothers"(38) in whom the divine
likeness disfigured by sin is restored. By becoming flesh among us, the
eternal Word of God "humbled himself to share in our
humanity,"(39) in order to make us share in his divinity. The work
of salvation carried out by God in Christ is universal. It is no longer
destined only for the chosen people. It is the whole "race of
Adam" which is involved and which is "recapitulated" in
Christ, according to the expression of St. Irenaeus.(40) With Christ,
all are called to enter through faith into the definitive Covenant with
God,(41) over and above circumcision, the Law of Moses and race.
This Covenant is fulfilled and sealed through the sacrifice of Christ,
who obtained the Redemption of a sinful humanity. Through Christ's cross
was abolished the religious division-which had hardened into ethnic
division-between the peoples of the promise that was already fulfilled
and the rest of humanity. The pagans who were until that time
"excluded from membership of Israel, aliens with no part in the
covenants with their Promise..., have been brought very close, by the
blood of Christ."(42) It is he who had "made the two into one
and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, actually
destroying in his own person the hostility...."(43) Out of the Jew
and the pagan, Christ wanted "to create one single New Man in
himself." This New Man is the collective name of humanity redeemed
by him, with all the diversity of its components, reconciled with God in
a single Body which is the Church, through the Cross which killed
hostility.(44) In this way, now "...there is no distinction between
Greek and Jew, between the circumcised or the uncircumcised, or between
barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man. There is only Christ: he is
everything and he is in everything."(45) Therefore, the believer,
whatever his previous condition may have been, has put on the New Man
who is constantly renewed in the image of his Creator. And Christ
gathers together in unity the scattered children of God.(46) Christ's
message envisages not only a spiritual fraternity. It presupposes and
entails very important concrete behavior in daily life. Christ himself
gave the example. The narrow context of Palestine where nearly all his
earthly life took place did not give him many opportunities to meet
people from another race. However, he accepted all the categories of
persons with whom he came into contact. He did not hesitate to spend
time with the Samaritans(47) and to refer to them as an example,(48)
although they were despised by the Jews, who treated them as heretics.
He made all who were marginalized in one way or another benefit from his
salvation: the sick, sinners-men and women, prostitutes, publicans,
pagans such as the Syro-phoenician woman.(49) Only those were left aside
who excluded themselves because of their own self- sufficiency, such as
certain Pharisees. And he warned us solemnly: we will be judged on the
attitude we have toward the stranger or the least of his brothers; for,
without our even knowing it, it is Christ himself whom we meet in
Christ's resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
ushered in this new humanity. Incorporation into this new humanity comes
through faith and Baptism, following the preaching of and free adherence
to the Gospel. This Good News is meant for all races. "Make
disciples of all nations."(51)
22. The Church has therefore the vocation in the midst of the world to
be the people redeemed and reconciled with God and among themselves,
forming "one body, one spirit in Christ,"(52) and giving
witness before all to respect and love. "Every nation under
heaven" was symbolically represented in Jerusalem at Pentecost,(53)
the antitype and victory over the dispersion of Babel.(54) As Peter
said, when he was called to the house of the pagan, Cornelius, "God
has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.... God
shows no partiality...."(55) The Church has the sublime vocation of
realizing, first of all within herself, the unity of humankind over and
above any ethnic, cultural, national, social or other divisions in order
to signify precisely that such divisions are now obsolete, having been
abolished by the cross of Christ. In doing this, the Church contributes
toward promoting the fraternal coexistence of all peoples. The Second
Vatican Council has rightly defined the Church as "sacrament, a
sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among
all men"(56) since "both Christ and the Church. . .transcend
the distinctions of race and nationality."(57) Within the Church
"no inequality arising from race or nationality, social condition
or sex" should exist.(58) This is indeed the meaning of the word
"Catholic"-i.e., universal, which is one of the marks of the
Church. As the Church spreads, this catholicity becomes more manifest.
The Church actually gathers together Christ's faithful from all the
nations of the world, from the most diverse cultures, who are led by
pastors from their own peoples, all sharing the same faith and the same
The repeated failures due to people's insensibility and the sins of her
own members can in no way weaken what the Church has the vocation and
mission to accomplish by divine mandate. They confirm rather that it is
not a human undertaking but a plan that surpasses merely human forces.
In any case, it is important that Christians become more aware that they
are all called to be a sign in the world. Should they banish all forms
of racial, ethnic, national or cultural discrimination from their
conduct, the world would recognize better the newness of the Gospel of
reconciliation in the Church, they must anticipate the eschatological
and definitive community of the Kingdom of God.
23. The Christian teaching, which has just been presented, has in fact
serious moral consequences which can be summarized in three key words:
respect for differences, fraternity, solidarity.
If people and human communities are all equal in dignity, that does not
mean that they all have, at a given moment, equal physical abilities,
cultural endowments, intellectual and moral strengths, or that they are
at the same stage of development. Equality does not mean uniformity. It
is important to recognize the diversity and complementarity of one
another's cultural riches and moral qualities. Equality of treatment
therefore implies a certain recognition of differences which minorities
themselves demand in order to develop according to their own specific
characteristics, in respect for others and for the common good of
society and the world community. No human group, however, can boast of
having a natural superiority over others,(59) or of exercising any
discrimination that affects the basic rights of the person.
Mutual respect is not enough: fraternity must be established. The
dynamism necessary for such fraternity is none other than charity, which
is also very much at the heart of the Christian message: "Every man
is my brother."(60) Charity is not just a simple feeling of
benevolence or pity. It aims at enabling each and every one to benefit
effectively from worthy conditions of life due in justice: for survival,
freedom and development in all circumstances. It makes a person see him
or herself, in Christ, in every other man and woman, according to the
divine precept "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Recognition of fraternity is not enough. One must go on to effective
solidarity between all, in particular between rich and poor. Pope John
Paul II's recent encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (December 30,
1987), insists on interdependence "sensed as a system determining
relationships in the contemporary world...and accepted as a moral
category. When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the
correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a 'virtue,' is
solidarity."(61) Peace among people and nations is at stake:
"Opus solidaritatis pax, peace is the fruit of
IV. Contribution of Christians, in Union with Others, to
Promoting Fraternity and Solidarity Among Races
24. Racial prejudice, which denies the equal dignity of all the members
of the human family and blasphemes the Creator, can only be eradicated
by going to its roots, where it is formed: in the human heart. It is
from the heart that just or unjust behavior is born,(63) according to
whether persons are open to God's will-in the natural order and in the
Living Word-or whether they close themselves up in those egoisms
dictated by fear or the instinct of domination. It is the way we look at
others that must be purified. Harboring racist thoughts and entertaining
racist attitudes is a sin against the specific message of Christ for
whom one's "neighbor" is not only a person from my tribe, my
milieu, my religion or my nation: it is every person that I meet along
It is not through external means-legislation or scientific proofs-that
racial prejudice can be uprooted. It is indeed not enough that laws
prohibit or punish all types of racial discrimination: these laws can
easily be gotten around if the community for which they are intended
does not fully accept them. To overcome discrimination, a community must
interiorize the values that inspire just laws and live out, in
day-to-day life, the conviction of the equal dignity of all.
25. A change of heart cannot occur without strengthening spiritual
convictions regarding respect for other races and ethnic groups. The
Church, on its part, contributes to forming consciences by clearly
presenting the entire Christian doctrine on this subject. She
particularly asks pastors, preachers, teachers and catechists to explain
the true teaching of Scripture and Tradition about the origin of all
people in God, their final common destiny in the Kingdom of God, the
value of the precept of fraternal love, and the total incompatibility
between racist exclusivism and the universal calling of all to the same
salvation in Jesus Christ. Recourse to the Bible to justify a posteriori
any racist prejudice must be firmly denounced. The Church has never
authorized any such deformed interpretation of Scripture.
The Church's persuasive task is equally carried out through the witness
of life of Christians: respect for foreigners, acceptance of dialogue,
sharing, mutual aid and collaboration with other ethnic groups. The
world needs to see this parable in action among Christians in order to
be convinced by Christ's message. Of course, Christians themselves must
humbly admit that members of the Church, on all levels, have not always
coherently lived out this teaching throughout history. Nonetheless, they
must continue to proclaim what is right while seeking to "do"
26. Doctrine and examples by themselves are not sufficient. The victims
of racism, wherever they may be, must be defended. Acts of
discrimination among persons and peoples for racist or other
reasons-religious or ideological-and which lead to contempt and to the
phenomena of exclusion, must be denounced and brought to light without
hesitation and strongly rejected in order to promote equitable behavior,
legislative dispositions and social structures.
An increasing number of people have become more sensitive to this
injustice and are opposing all forms of racism. They may be doing so out
of religious conviction or for humanitarian reasons. This inspires them
at times to stand up against repression by certain powers, or at least
against the pressures of a sectarian public opinion, and to face scorn
and imprisonment. Christians do not hesitate, with the necessary
discernment, to assume their responsibilities in this struggle for the
dignity of their brothers and sisters, always showing a preference for
27. In her denunciations of racism, however, the Church tries to
maintain an evangelical attitude with regard to all. This is undoubtedly
her particular gift. While she is not afraid to examine lucidly the
evils of racism and disapprove of them, even to those who are
responsible for them, she also seeks to understand how these people
could have reached that point. She would like to help them find a
reasonable way out of the impasse in which they find themselves. Just as
God does not take pleasure at the death of a sinner,(66) the Church
aspires more to helping them if they consent to remedy the injustice
committed. She is also concerned with preventing victims from having
recourse to violent struggle and thus falling into a racism similar to
that which they are rejecting. The Church wishes to be a place for
reconciliation and does not want to heighten opposition. She invites all
to act in such a way that hatred be banished. She preaches love. She
patiently prepares a change in mentality without which structural
changes would be in vain.
28. In the formation of a non-racist conscience, the role of schools is
primordial. The Magisterium of the Church has always highlighted the
importance of an education that stresses what is common to all. It is
also important to show that others, precisely because they are
different, can enrich our experience. While it is normal, for instance,
for history to cultivate esteem for one's country, it is regrettable
that it can lead to a blind chauvinism and to according only a secondary
place to the achievements of other nations, considered inferior. As has
already been done in some countries, it may be necessary to revise
scholastic texts which falsify history, pass over the historical
misdeeds of racism in silence or justify the principles behind it. In
the same way, civic education must be conceived in such a way so as to
uproot discriminatory reflexes toward persons belonging to other ethnic
groups. More and more, the school provides the occasion for the children
of immigrants to mix with the children of the receiving country.
Hopefully this will provide an opportunity to help both groups to know
one another better and to prepare a more harmonious coexistence.
In addition, many young people today seem to be less prone to racial
prejudice. This provides a hope for the future which must be fostered.
On the other hand, it is regrettable to see other young people organized
into gangs in order to commit acts of violence against certain racial
groups, or turning sports events into chauvinistic demonstrations which
end up in vandalism or massacres. Unless they are ideologically
nurtured, racial prejudices most often come from ignorance about others
which gives full vent to imagination and engenders fear. There is no
lack of occasions today for accustoming young people to respect and
esteem for differences: international exchanges, travel, language
courses, the twinning of cities, vacation camps, international schools,
sports and cultural activities.
29. Persuasion and education must be coupled with the will to translate
respect for other ethnic groups into legislation and into the structures
and functioning of regional or national institutions.
Racism will disappear from legal texts only when it dies in people's
hearts. However, there must also be direct action in the legislative
field. Wherever discriminatory laws still exist, the citizens who are
aware of the perversity of this ideology must assume their
responsibilities so that, through democratic processes, legislation will
be put in harmony with the moral law. Within a given State, the law must
be equal for all citizens without distinction. A dominant group, whether
numerically in the majority or minority, can never do as it likes with
the basic rights of other groups. It is important for ethnic, linguistic
or religious minorities who live within the borders of the same State,
to enjoy recognition of the same inalienable rights as other citizens,
including the right to live together according to their specific
cultural and religious characteristics. Their choice to be integrated
into the surrounding culture must be a free one.(67)
The status of other citizens or persons, such as immigrants or refugees,
or temporary foreign workers, is often more precarious. It is all the
more urgent that their basic human rights be recognized and guaranteed.
It is precisely these people who are most often the victims of racial
prejudice. The law must take care to check any act of aggressivity
toward them as well as the conduct of anyone- employers, functionaries
or private individuals-who attempts to subject these more vulnerable
persons to various forms of exploitation, be it economic or other.
Of course, it is up to the public powers who are responsible for the
common good to determine the number of refugees or immigrants which
their country can accept, taking into consideration its possibilities
for employment and its perspectives for development but also the urgency
of the need of other people. The State must also see to it that a
serious social imbalance is not created which would be accompanied by
sociological phenomena of rejection such as those which can occur when
an overly heavy concentration of persons from another culture is
perceived as directly threatening the identity and customs of the local
community that receives them. In the apprenticeship to difference,
everything cannot be expected all at once, but the possibilities for new
ways of living together and even of mutual enrichment must be
considered. Once a foreigner is admitted to a country and accepts the
rules of public order, he or she has the right to protection by the law
for the entire duration of his or her stay there.
In the same way, labor legislation should not permit that, for equal
work, non-citizens who have found employment in a country should offer
discrimination compared to nativeborn workers with regard to salary,
social security and old age insurance. It is precisely in work relations
that a better knowledge about, and mutual acceptance of, persons from
different ethnic and cultural origins should grow, and a human
solidarity be built which is capable of overcoming earlier prejudices.
30. On the international level, it is important to continue to draw up
juridical instruments to overcome racism and, above all, to make them
After the excesses of Nazism, the United Nations committed itself
wholeheartedly to respect for persons and peoples.(68) An important
International Convention on the elimination of all forms of racial
discrimination was adopted by the Twentieth General Assembly of the
United Nations on December 21, 1965. Among other things it stipulates
that "there is no justification for racial discrimination in theory
or in practice, anywhere" (Preamble, _6). It also foresees
legislative and judicial measures for enacting these provisions. It came
into force on January 4, 1969, and the Holy See formally ratified it on
May 1st of the same year.
The United Nations also decided on November 2, 1973, to proclaim a
"Decade to combat racism and racial discrimination." Pope Paul
VI immediately expressed "his lively interest" and "deep
satisfaction" for this new initiative:
"This pre-eminently human undertaking will once again find the Holy
See and the United Nations in close accord-albeit on different levels
and with different means."(69)
Since 1946, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC)
has had a Commission on Human Rights, which, in turn, set up a
Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of
The Holy See's contribution continued through the participation of its
delegations in several important manifestations of the Decade, and also
in other inter-governmental meetings.(70) Since then a second
"Decade" has been proclaimed (1983-1993).
31. These efforts by the Holy See, as a duly recognized member of the
international community, must not be considered in isolation from the
many and diverse efforts of Christian communities around the world nor
from the personal commitment of Christians in civil institutions.
In this context, special mention could be made of the contribution of
various episcopates across the world. One could cite, by way of example,
the efforts made by the bishops of two countries which have experienced
the problems of racism in a particularly acute, if albeit, different
The first example is that of the United States of America, where racial
discrimination had been maintained in the legislation of several states
long after the Civil War (1861-1865). It was only in 1964 that the Civil
Rights Law put an end to all forms of legally practiced discrimination.
This represented a considerable step forward, matured over a long period
and marked by numerous initiatives of a non-violent nature. The Catholic
Church, especially through its extensive educational system, as well as
through the declarations of the episcopate, contributed to this
Despite on-going efforts, much still remains to be done to completely
eliminate racial prejudice and behavior even in what can be considered
one of the most interracial nations of the world. Proof of this is the
statement adopted by the Administrative Board of the United States
Catholic Conference on March 26, 1987, which pointed out the persistence
of signs of racism in American society and condemned the activity of
racist organizations such as the "Ku Klux Klan."
The second example is that of the Church in South Africa, faced with
quite a different situation. The commitment of the; South African
bishops, very often in close collaboration with the other Christian
Churches, to racial equality and against apartheid is well known. In
this regard, the following more recent documents of the Episcopal
Conference could be mentioned: Pastoral letter published on May 1st,
1986, with the significant title: "Christian Hope in the Current
Crisis"(72) and the Message addressed to the Head of State in
The situation in South Africa has given rise, across the world, to
manifestations of solidarity with those who suffer because of apartheid
as well as in support of ecclesial initiatives.(74) Furthermore, these
initiatives are frequently carried out ecumenically. Pope John Paul II,
for his part, has repeatedly expressed his concern to the Catholic
bishops of South Africa.(75)
On September 10, 1988, during his visit to Southern Africa, the pope
addressed all the bishops of the region, gathered in Harare, and said to
them in particular: "The question of apartheid, understood as a
system of social, economic and political discrimination, engages your
mission as teachers and spiritual guides of your flocks in a necessary
and determined effort to counteract injustices and to advocate the
replacement of that policy with one consistent with justice and love. I
encourage you to continue to hold firmly and courageously to the
principles which are at the basis of a peaceful and just response to the
legitimate aspirations of all your fellow-citizens.
"I am aware of the attitudes expressed over the years by the
Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, from the first corporate
statement of 1952. The Holy See and I myself have drawn attention to the
injustices of apartheid on numerous occasions, and most recently before
an ecumenical group of Christian leaders from South Africa on a visit to
Rome. To them I recalled that `since reconciliation is at the heart of
the Gospel, Christians cannot accept structures of racial discrimination
which violate human rights. But they must also realize that a change of
structures is linked to a change of hearts. The changes they seek are
rooted in the power of love, the Divine Love from which every Christian
action and transformation springs' (Address to a Joint Ecumenical
Delegation from South Africa, May 27, 1988)."(76)
32. Lastly, if racism troubles the peace of societies, it also poisons
international peace. Where there is no justice on this major issue,
violence and wars easily break out, and relations with neighboring
nations are disturbed.
In relations between States, a faithful application of the principles of
the equal dignity of all peoples should exclude that certain nations be
treated by others on the basis of racial prejudices. In tensions between
States, certain political decisions of an adversary can be condemned, as
well as unjust behavior on one or another given point, or possibly the
failure to keep a promise, but a people cannot be globally condemned for
what is often the fault of its leaders. It is through such primary,
irrational reactions that racial prejudices can get the upper hand and
poison relations between nations in a lasting way.
The international community does not have any means of coercion at its
disposal with regard to States which, through their legal system, still
practice racial discrimination toward their own peoples. Nevertheless,
international law does allow for appropriate external pressure to be
exercised in their regard, to lead them, according to an organic and
negotiated plan, to abolish racist legislation in favor of a legislation
in conformity with human rights. However, the international community
must take the greatest care in these delicate situations, lest its
action precipitate the country concerned into even more dramatic
As for countries where serious racial tensions exist, they must become
aware of the precariousness of a peace which does not rest on the
consensus of all the society's components. History shows that the
prolonged failure to recognize human rights almost always ends in
outbreaks of uncontrollable violence. In order to establish an order
based on law, antagonist groups must let themselves be won over by
supreme and transcendent values which are the basis of all human
communities and all peaceful relations among nations.
33. The effort to overcome racism does in fact seem to have become an
imperative which is broadly anchored in human consciences. The 1965 U.N.
Convention expressed this conviction forcefully: "Any doctrine of
superiority based on the difference between races is scientifically
false, morally condemnable and socially unjust and dangerous."(77)
The Church's doctrine affirms it with no less vigor all racist theories
are contrary to Christian faith and love. And yet, in sharp contrast to
this growing awareness of human dignity, racism still exists and
continually reappears in different forms. It is a wound in humanity's
side that mysteriously remains open. Everyone, therefore, must make
efforts to heal it with great firmness and patience.
There is no question, however, of grouping everything together. There
are different degrees and forms of racism. Racism as such is applied to
contempt for a race characterized by its ethnic origin, color or
language. Today apartheid is the most marked and systematic form of
this: change is absolutely necessary and urgent here. There are,
however, many other forms of exclusion and rejection for which the
reason invoked is not race, but which have similar effects. All forms of
discrimination must be firmly opposed. It would be hypocritical to point
a finger at only one country: rejection based on race exists on every
continent. Many practice a discrimination in fact which they abhor in
Respect for every person and every race is respect for basic rights,
dignity and fundamental equality. This does not mean erasing cultural
differences. Instead it is important to educate to a positive
appreciation of the complementary diversity of peoples. A well-
understood pluralism resolves the problem of closed racism.
Racism and racist acts must be condemned. The application of
legislative, disciplinary and administrative measures, or even
appropriate external pressure, can be timely. Countries and
international organizations have at their disposal a whole range of
initiatives to be taken or encouraged. It is equally the responsibility
of the citizens concerned, but without, for that reason, going so far as
to replace violently one unjust situation with another injustice.
Constructive solutions must always he envisaged.
The Catholic Church encourages all these efforts. The Holy See has its
role to play in the context of its specific mission. All Catholics are
invited to work concretely side by side with other Christians and all
others who have this same respect for persons. The Church wants first
and foremost to change racist attitudes, including those within her own
communities. She appeals first of all to the moral and religious sense
of people. She states exigencies but uses fraternal persuasion, her only
weapon. She asks God to change hearts. She offers a place for
reconciliation. She would like to see promoted initiatives of welcome,
of exchange and of mutual assistance as regards men and women belonging
to other ethnic groups. Her mission is to give soul to this immense
undertaking of human fraternity. Despite the sinful limitations of her
members, yesterday and today, she is aware of having been constituted a
witness to Christ's charity on earth, a sign and instrument of the unity
of humankind. The message she proposes to everyone, and which she tries
to live is: "Every person is my brother or sister."
November 3, 1988 Liturgical Memorial of St. Martin of Porres (Born in
Lima of a Spanish father and a black slave mother)
Roger Cardinal Etchegaray
President Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace
Vice President Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace
1. Cf. Eph 2:14.
2. Cf. Ex 19:5 ("my very own," translation from the Jerusalem
3. Cf. Mk 16:15; Mt 28:19.
4. Ad Nat. 1, 8; PL 1, 601.
5. Coleccion de documentos ineditados relativos al descubrimiento,
conquista y organizacion de las antiguas posesiones espanolas de America
y Oceania, vol 7, Madrid, 1867, 414. See also the Brief, Pastorale
Officium, of May 29, 1537 to the Archbishop of Toledo in ibid., 414,
and H. Denzinger-A. Schoenmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, Barcelona,
6. "Do not put any pressure on or bring forth any arguments to
convince these peoples to change their rites, their customs and habits
unless they are obviously contrary to religion and morality. What could
be more absurd than transporting France, Spain, Italy or any other
European country to the Chinese. Do not present our countries to them
but rather the faith.... Do not try to substitute European customs for
those of these peoples, and be most careful to adapt yourselves to
them." Collectanea S. Congregationis de Propaganda Fide seu
Decreta, Instructiones, Prescripta pro apostolicis missionibus
(1622-1866), vol. I, Rome, 1907, n. 135; and Codicis luris Canonici
Fontes (ed. Cardinal J. Seredi), Vatican, 1935, vol. VII, n. 4463,
7. For example, the interpretation that some fundamentalists gave to the
curse made by Noah on his son, Ham-condemned, in his grandson Canaan, to
be his brothers' slave-is well known (cf. Gen 9:24-27). They
misunderstood the meaning and scope of the sacred text, which referred
to a certain historical situation: the difficult relations between the
Canaanites and the people of Israel. They wanted to see in Ham or Canaan
the ancestor of the African peoples whom they had subjugated and,
consequently, they considered them marked by God with an indelible
inferiority which destined them to serve whites forever.
8. Cf., among others, the works of J. A. Gobineau, Essai sur
l'inegalite des races humaines, 4 vol., Paris, 1853-55. Gobineau
took his inspiration from Darwin and extended his theses on the natural
selection of species to societies and civilizations.
9. On March 25, 1928, a decree of the Holy Office condemned
anti-Semitism: AAS XX (1928), 103-104.
10. AAS XXIX (1937), 149.
11. Cf. Documentation Catholique (DC), 1938, 579-580. In a
discourse to the members of the College of Propaganda Fide on July 28,
1938, Pius XI again stated: "Catholic means universal, not racist,
not nationalistic in the separatist meaning of these two attributes....
We do not wish to separate anything in the human family.... The term
'humankind' reveals precisely what the human race is. It must be stated
that people are first and foremost all one great and single species, one
great and single family of living beings.... There is only one human,
universal 'catholic' race...and with it and in it, different
variations.... This is the Church's response," in L'Osservatore
Romano (OR), July 30, 1938, cf. DC 1938, 1058-1961.
12. Cf. encyclical Summi Pontificatus, October 28, 1939, AAS
XXXI (1939), 481-509.
13. 1942 Christmas Radio Message, nn. 20 and 70, AAS XXXV (1943),
14. To the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference meeting in Maternushaus
of the Archdiocese of Cologne, John Paul II pointed out the witness
given by the Cardinal Count Clemens August von Galen, the Carmelite
Edith Stein, the Jesuit Rupert Mayer and "numerous other courageous
witnesses who, in the face of inhuman tyranny, stood up on grounds of
religious belief or humanitarianism.... All of them together represent
the other Germany which refused to bow to arrogance and brute force and
which was able, after the final collapse, to serve as a sound nucleus
and source of strength for the magnificent moral and material
reconstruction which followed" (OR, English ed., May 18,
15. On November 30, 1973, the United Nations adopted an International
Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
See also, concerning the consequences of apartheid on employment:
Seventh Regional Conference of the ILO in Harare, Zimbabwe, from
November 29 to December 7, 1988.
16. Paul VI, Allocution to the U.N. Special Committee on Apartheid,
May 22, 1974 in AAS LXVI (1974), 342-346; John Paul II, Allocution
to the same Committee, July 7, 1984, in OR, English ed., n. 29,
16.7.1984, 11-12, Discourse to the Civil Authorities and Diplomatic
Corps in Yaounde, August 12, 1985, No. 13, in OR, English ed., n.
29, 16.7.1984, 11-12; Discourse to the Civil Authorities and Diplomatic
Corps in Yaounde, August 12, 1985, No. 13, in OR, English ed. n,
35, 2.9.1985, 8-9.
17. Cf. Discourse of John Paul II to the Diplomatic Corps,
January 11, 1986, No. 4, in OR, English ed., n. 3, 20.1.1986,
18. Cf. five discourses of John Paul II: 葉o the Indians of Ecuador,
in Latacunga, January 31, 1985, in OR, English ed., n. 9,
4.3.1985, 5-10; 葉o the Indians of Peru, in Cuzco, February 3, 1985,
in OR, English ed., n. 12, 25.3.1985, 3-4; 葉o the Aborigines
of Australia, in Alice Springs, November 29, 1986, in OR, English
ed., n. 49, 9.12.1986, 16-18; -to the North American Indians, in
Phoenix, September 14, 1987, in OR, English ed., n. 38,
21.9.1987, 21-22; 葉o the Indians of Canada, in Fort Simpson,
September 20, 1987, in OR, English ed., n. 40, 5.10.1987, 11-12.
幼f. also John Paul II, 1989 World Day of Peace Message: "To
Build Peace, Respect Minorities."
19. With regard to Africa, see Paul VI, Africae Terrarum Message
to the Catholic Hierarchy in Africa, October 20, 1967, in AAS LIX
(1967), 1073-1097; Discourse to the Parliament of Uganda, August 1,
1969, in AAS LXI (1969), 584-585; Discourse to the Diplomatic
Corps, January 14, 1978, AAS, LXX (1978), 172-173; John Paul II,
Discourse to the Authorities and to the Diplomatic Corps in Yaounde,
August 12, 1985, nn. 11 and 12, in OR, English ed., n. 35,
20. In particular, Pope John Paul II has often recalled that the
Palestinian people have the right to a country as do the Jewish people.
21. Cf. Discourse of John Paul II during his visit to the Synagogue of
Rome on April 13, 1986, in OR, English ed., n. 16, 21.4.1986,
22. Cf. Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on
Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation, Donum
Vitae, February 22, 1987, III: "Eugenism and forms of
discrimination between human beings could come to be legitimized: this
would constitute an act of violence and a serious offense to the
equality, dignity and fundamental rights of the human person."
23. Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 29; cf. also ibid.,
n. 60 (for the right to culture); cf. Declaration Nostra Aetate,
n. 5; Decree Ad Gentes, n. 15; Declaration Gravissimum
Educationis, n. 1 (for the right to education).
24. Discourse to the Diplomatic Corps, January 14, 1978: AAS LXX
(1978), 172. Many other previous texts expressed similar thoughts, in
particular: encyclical Populorum Progressio, nn. 47 and 63;
Message of Paul VI to the peoples of Africa read before the Uganda
Parliament on August 1, 1969: AAS LXI (1969), 580-586; Apostolic
Letter Octogesima Adveniens of Paul VI, n. 16: AAS LXIII (1971),
413; Message for the 1971 World Day of Peace: "Every man is my
25. Allocution of John Paul II to the U.N. Special Committee against
Apartheid, July 7, 1984, in OR, English ed., n. 29, 16.7.1984,
26. Le racisme devant la science, UNESCO, Paris, 1973, n. 1, 369.
27. Cf. Gen 1:26-27; 5:1-2; 9:6-it is forbidden to shed the blood of man
created in God's image.
28. Declaration Nostra Aetate, n. 5, quoted in the Discourse of
John Paul to Muslim Youth in Casablanca, August 19, 1985, which adds:
"This obedience to God and love for man must lead us to respect
human rights, those rights which are the expression of God's will and
the requirement of human nature just as God created it," OR,
English ed., n. 37, 16.9.1985, 7.
29. Gen 3:20.
30. Tb 8:6.
31. Cf. Gen 5:1.
32. Cf. Acts 17:26, 28, 29.
33. Cf. Gen 9:11ff.
34. Gen 12:3; Acts 3:25.
35. Cf. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 22.
36. Col 1:15; cf. 2 Cor 4:4.
37. Cf. Phil 2:6-7.
38. Rm 8:29.
39. Roman Missal, Offertory.
40. Cf. Adversus Haereses, Ill, 22, 3: "The Lord is the one
who recapitulated in himself all the scattered nations descended from
Adam, all the languages and generations of men including Adam
himself." Irenaeus was inspired by St. Paul: Eph 1:10; Col 1:20.
41. Cf. Rm 1:16-17.
42. Cf. Eph 2:11-13.
43. Ibid., 2:14
44. Cf. ibid., 2:15-16.
45. Col 3:11; cf. Gal 3:28.
46. Cf. Jn 11:52.
47. Cf. Jn 4:4-42.
48. Cf. Lk 10:33.
49. Cf. Mk 7:24.
50. Mt 25:38, 40.
51. Mt 28:19.
52. Eucharistic Prayer III.
53. Cf. Acts 2:5.
54. Cf. Gen 11:1-9.
55. Acts 10:28, 34.
56. Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 1.
57. Decree Ad Gentes, n. 8.
58. Lumen Gentium, n. 32.
59. Cf. Encyclical Pacem in Terris of John XXIII, April 11, 1963,
which denounces, following Pius XI, the scandal constituted by the
persistence of ideologies according to which "some human beings or
nations are superior to others by nature."
60. Theme of the 1971 World Day of Peace.
61. Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 38.
62. Ibid., n. 39.
63. Cf. Mk 7:21-23.
64. Cf. Jn 3:21.
65. Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On
and Liberation, March 22, 1986, nn. 78, 79.
"Situations of grave injustice require the courage to make far-
reaching reforms and to suppress unjustifiable privileges. But those who
discredit the path of reform and favor the myth of revolution not only
foster the illusion that the abolition of an evil situation is in itself
sufficient to create a more humane society; they also encourage the
setting up of totalitarian regimes. The fight against injustice is
meaningless unless it is waged with a view to establishing a new social
and political order in conformity with the demands of justice. Justice
must already mark each stage of the establishment of this new order.
There is a morality of means.... Indeed, because of the continual
development of the technology of violence and the increasingly serious
dangers implied in its recourse, that which today is termed 'passive
resistance' shows a way more conformable to moral principles and having
no less prospects for success."
66. Cf. Ezk 18:32.
67. Cf. John Paul II, 1989 World Day of Peace Message: "To Build
Peace, Respect Minorities."
68. In particular: United Nations Charter of June 26, 1945, art 1, 3;
Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948, art. 1, 2,
16, 26; II; United Nations Declaration on the elimination of all forms
of racial discrimination of November 20, 1963.
69. Message to the United
Nations for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, December 10, 1973, AAS LXV (1973), 673-677. On the
occasion of the above mentioned decade, in 1978, the Pontifical
Commission Justice and Peace published a brochure written by Rev. Roger
Heckel, S.J., entitled: Struggle Against Racism: The Church's
Contribution which gave an overview of the issue.
70. Particular mention could be made of: 葉he International Conference
on Namibia and Human Rights (Dakar, January 5-8, 1976); 葉he World
Conference for action against apartheid (Lagos, August 22-26, 1977); 葉he
meeting of governmental representatives charged with drawing up a draft
declaration on race and racial prejudice (UNESCO, Paris, March 13-21,
1978); 葉he World Conference on the struggle against racism and racial
discrimination (Geneva, August 14-25, 1978); 葉he Second World
Conference on the struggle against racism and racial discrimination
(Geneva, August 1-12, 1983).
71. Cf. the most important document of the last decade: "Brothers
and Sisters to Us: A Pastoral Letter on Racism in Our Day,"
published in 1979.
72. Cf. Origins, vol. 16, nn. 1, 11.
73. Cf. OR, English ed., n. 46, 17.11.1986, 15.
74. Particular mention must be made of the letter which Cardinal Roger
Etchegaray addressed to the Most Rev. Denis Hurley (then President of
the Episcopal Conference) on March 8, 1986 in order to encourage the
bishops' efforts and envisage possible steps for overcoming the
conflicts. Cf. OR, English ed., n. 17, 28.4.1986, 10.
75. In particular on the occasion of Ad limina visits, the last of which
took place in November, 1987. Cf. Discourse of John Paul II in OR,
English ed., n. 49, 7.12.1987, 2.
76. OR, English ed., 37, 12.9.1988, 3.
77. Par. 6 of the Preamble of the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which was adopted on
December 21, 1965, and which entered into force on January 4, 1969.