The listening sessions on race taking place in churches across the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg are as difficult as they are relevant. Wednesday's session shocked even Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, who is well serving his pastoral mission by trying to foster a greater degree of understanding, dignity and respect across the bay area. This is an effort that Catholics and non-Catholics alike can applaud for the awareness it brings to the need for civic unity.
Crowds packed Higgins Hall at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa on Wednesday to relate their experiences in dealing with race inside the church. Some told stories about racist episodes that took place in Catholic settings. Others called for more diversity in the priesthood and in Catholic schools and churches that serve disadvantaged areas. Parkes also heard of dismissive treatment of Hispanic migrant workers.
"I am shocked at some of the things I heard tonight," Parkes said, addressing the crowd as the evening ended. The U.S. bishops will discuss a pastoral letter on race at their national meeting in Baltimore in November. Locally, more listening sessions are also planned; the next is scheduled for Sept. 15 at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa.
Parkes is to be commended for engaging the five-county diocese in the church's national dialogue on race. With more than 450,000 Catholics in the greater Tampa Bay area, this large, growing and diverse region should be adding its voice to the effort of bringing the human race closer together. By raising awareness, the bishop is helping forge a stronger community while involving the church more at the local level.