Exactly one year after Archbishop Pérez released “We Are One Body,” his pastoral letter on racism — 40 Catholics from nine parishes across the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia came together the weekend of June 1-2 at St. Malachy Church in Philadelphia to reflect on his call for our local Church to take an active role in healing racism.

The gathering was sponsored by New Encounters: Catholics Confronting Racism, a Philadelphia-based team of Catholics working for racial healing within our local community. The group collaborates closely with the Archbishop’s Commission on Racial Healing to help facilitate this critical work.

Since launching in 2020, New Encounters: Catholics Confronting Racism has been regularly active throughout the archdiocese. They’ve offered online programs on racial healing during Advent, Lent, and Pentecost, facilitated a workshop on the US bishops’ letter “Open Wide Our Hearts” for permanent deacons, at the invitation of the Office for Clergy, and hosted Sr. Cora Marie Billings, RSM, for a weekend of reflections on racial healing in October.

With the “We Are One Body” initiative, New Encounters is now focusing efforts on parishes throughout the archdiocese.

Starting small but with an ever-expanding tent, this initiative welcomes parishioners to come together on a quarterly basis to support each other as we engage in what Archbishop Pérez calls the “Journey of Conversion” surrounding racism.

For many people, discussions of this nature can feel overwhelming. However, as participants encounter each other, learn together, and discern action-plans rooted in faith, they come to see that as Catholics we walk this journey with enormous spiritual resources bestowed on us by Christ. Those include His real presence in the Eucharist along with the beauty of the liturgy and the intercession of the communion of saints.

With those anchors, we can face our responsibility to name and heal what many of us, our leaders, and our institutions have done or failed to do that has perpetuated racism as a profound wound to the Body of Christ.

Throughout the process, participants in “We Are One Body” have reported that they find meaning, connection, hope, and joy in the small group sharing circles that are part of each gathering, as people from parishes across the archdiocese connect with each other.

To date, parishioners from the following parishes have participated in the “We Are One Body” gatherings:  SS. Agatha & James (with Newman Center students), St. Anthony of Padua, St. Francis de Sales, St. Joan of Arc, St. Malachy, St. Norbert (with Daylesford Abbey), St. Raymond of Peñafort, St. Thomas of Villanova, and St. Vincent de Paul in Philadelphia.

A volunteer-led organization, New Encounters receives modest program-support through a
donor advised fund at the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia. New Encounters is also developing a partnership with Cranaleith Spiritual Center based in Northeast Philadelphia.

The next quarterly meeting will take place in September at St. Norbert Church in Paoli. Quarterly meetings rotate parish locations.

Parishes wishing to send interested parishioners to upcoming “We Are One Body” gatherings are encouraged to contact New Encounters coordinator Dr. Mary Laver for more information at newencounters@gmail.com  or 610-324-9388.


Dr. Mary S. Laver, PhD, is the Coordinator for New Encounters: Catholics Confronting Racism.