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National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice (NCCIJ)

NATIONAL CATHOLIC CONFERENCE FOR INTERRACIAL JUSTICE (NCCIJ)

Founded in 19591960 at Chicago as a federation of Catholic Interracial Councils, NCCIJ now has its national office at the Josephite Seminary in Washington, DC. It implements the teaching of the Catholic Church on cultural and racial justice and serves to further the Church's vision of multicultural and multiracial understanding. Bridge-building between the white and black populations was the original rationale for Catholic Interracial Councils (CIC), a movement begun in the 1930s, under the guidance of John lafarge, SJ (18801963). Both personally and as editor for the Jesuit weekly America, LaFarge hammered home to U.S. Catholics that racism was a sin. The pioneer effort in the New York City area, launched on June 6, 1934 (Pentecost Sunday), led to imitation elsewhere, until a CIC was to be found in almost every large urban area. The NCCIJ was established to coordinate the effort of the Councils, although each maintains its independence. For many years, the New York CIC published the Interracial Review, which reported on items of interest to African-Americans. NCCIJ continues to publish a newsletter, Commitment.

On Aug. 28, 1958, the first National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice was held at Loyola University in Chicago. The leaders of the Chicago CIC had orchestrated this meeting. As a result of this, the NCCIJ sprung up the following year. Shortly thereafter, the American bishops issued a pastoral letter, "Discrimination and Christian Conscience" (Nov. 14, 1958), which said, "The heart of the race question is religious and moral." No other previous statement of the American hierarchy had described the problem in this way.

Varied and intensive governmental programs, together with the emergence of the Black Power movement of the 1960s, led to less emphasis on maintaining private interracial coalitions of volunteer members and consequently to fewer Catholic interracial councils. During the 1960s, NCCIJ served as catalyst and secretariat for the first National Conference on Religion and Race (Chicago 1963) and for Catholic participation in the widespread demonstrations and other programs designed to achieve the federal Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1968. In the late 1970s, the Conference's major areas of concern included full, fair and equal opportunity employment, and Catholic school integration. Special emphasis was put on efforts to have the Church's own practices conform to the principles of social justice that Catholics accept and proclaim. In 1990, the NCCIJ began its Creating an Inclusive Church program "to assist the Church in addressing the increasing diversity of its membership with justice, unity, and love." It seeks to address under-representation of minorities in diocesan offices, purchasing, and ministry. The Plan for Parish Action (1992) focuses on building bridges between races and cultures and ensuring that all activities of the parish include all races and cultures. The Conference makes its services available to all, regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin.

NCCIJ is supported by contributions from individual and organization members, general appeals, and foundation grants. The Conference includes bishops, religious, and laity on its policy-making board, but it is an autonomous body, although approved by official Catholic leadership. At the national level, NCCIJ strives to be effective, by itself and in coalition with other civil rights and community groups (esp. NAACP, the National Office of Black Catholics, and those involved in the Spanish-speaking apostolate), in assuring the passage and enforcement of federal legislation guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities for all people, regardless of race, color, or national origin, in the areas of employment, housing, education, welfare, and health care. Two perspectives are aggressively maintained: (1) racial justice is a moral issue, transcending economics and politics; (2) the ministry to achieve interracial justice is not limited to a particular group, but is an obligation shared by all, with special responsibilities on Christians who recognize the universality of redemption and brotherhood in Jesus Christ.

Bibliography: j. lafarge, Interracial Justice (New York 1937; rev. ed., The Race Question [London 1943]); idem., No Postponement (London 1951); m. a. zielinski, "Doing the Truth": The Catholic Interracial Council of New York, 19451965 (Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University of America, 1989). Some archival materials for the NCCIJ may be found at Marquette University as well as among the papers of John LaFarge, SJ, at Georgetown University. The archives for the CIC-NY are located at the Catholic University of America.

[p. j. hayes/

a. j. welsh]

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