UIW Holds Prayer Circles for Racial Justice

February 10, 2023

Students holding hands with heads bowed

Every Friday at noon in February, the UIW community is invited to Our Lady’s Chapel for dialogue and prayer about the pursuit of racial justice. Each week during Black History Month, the sessions will also celebrate individuals who Dr. Arturo Chávez, associate vice president of Mission and Ministry and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, calls “Black saints.”

“They may not be canonized in the Catholic Church, but there are holy people in the Black church that really put their faith into action,” he explained. It’s those individuals that he says can inspire others to put their own faith into action as well.

The sessions began with a celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a discussion about how his teachings remain prevalent today. Moving forward, attendees will discuss the impact of Dr. Howard Thurman, also known as the grandfather of the civil rights movement; Sr. Thea Bowman, the Black Catholic religious nun who is known for her work to combat injustice and challenge the Catholic church “to accept her as ‘fully Black and fully Catholic,’”; and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights movement leader and voting activist.

The goal of the prayer circles – called Pray and Act for Racial Justice – is to provide students and other community members with a place where they can discuss today’s real-world issues, how they can cope with them, and how they can act to move society forward, as well as pray together for the strength needed to do so. Chávez also hopes that the sessions will serve as an inviting first step people can take to educate themselves on the work left to do in the pursuit of social and racial justice.

“I believe that the most important part of promoting that inclusion is education, and not the education that stays in your head like academic learning only, but the kind where we begin to build relationships with people who are different from us,” he shared. “That's what the [prayer circles] can do … students from different faith traditions and different races and cultures can come together to learn about each other and be in relationship with one another.”

This work, education and relationship building are what Chávez explains are part of the calling of Catholics based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

“Some people think that religion or faith is about getting to heaven,” he noted. “Ultimately, hopefully that that will happen. But faith is about what we believe that God wants for our world today. God wants peace, God wants human dignity and life to be honored and protected.”

Learn more about UIW’s Black History Month prayer circles here (pdf)