I could not believe my eyes when I sat on my bed, on a typical Saturday morning in Charlottesville, scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook.
All that I saw were videos of protesters, carrying torches and marching in a line, down the lawn of the University of Virginia, my university, in the dead of night.
I knew that the Unite the Right white supremacist rally was going to take place in Emancipation Park later in the day, but I had no idea that this evil would be marching less than one mile away from my apartment in the dead of night.
I had no idea that this evil would be marching less than one mile away from my apartment in the dead of night.
The next twenty-four hours were spent on lockdown alone in my apartment, with my eyes glued to a livestream of the news on my laptop while all of Virginia was in a state of emergency. A white supremacy rally had turned into large scale riots, violence had out-broken between the supremacists and protesters, policemen were struggling to clear the crowd, and a car was driven by a white supremacist down a crowded street, killing a woman and injuring others. The places where I had the past three years laughing with my friends was full of carnage, evil, and terrorism.
The following day I walked straight into my university parish and asked the chaplain, “What happened and what now?”
What can you do when violence and evil comes into your town and the entire country is watching? Racism is an evil that I never thought I would encounter, especially not stomping its way through my university. As a white woman at an affluent school, I did not even begin to have an idea as to how anything that I could do would be impactful. In our numbness and our confusion, we mourned, we prayed, and we surrounded our town to the care of Our Lady Queen of Peace.
In the midst of evil and chaos, women in particular have the unique strength to stand with others in a life-giving solidarity. At the foot of the cross, Our Lady stood with St. John, present to her Son as He endured His passion, and “a sword pierced her heart (Luke 2:35).” Standing here in Charlottesville, on the outskirts of brokenness amidst atrocity, my heart itself was pierced but what could I do, particularly as a white woman who does not know the pains of racism?
In 1531, a simple farmer of Aztec descent walked to Mass in the early morning. A convert to Catholicism, he is of a minority race, spends his days enduring backbreaking work, and does not have any education. As he makes his way over the hill, he suddenly finds himself looking into the face of the Virgin Mary.
Clothed in a brilliant blue mantle that reflects the constellations of the night sky, the Blessed Mother appears as an Aztec princess, with dark skin and high cheekbones. She stands on the moon, the Aztec symbol for the god of the night, signaling the she is stronger than the darkness. When the bishop of the area denies the simple farmer, Juan Diego, his request on behalf of the Virgin, to have a church built, she says to him, “Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief…Am I not here who am your Mother?”
As women, we can reach into the darkness that shrouds the hearts of those around us and dispel it through the light of Christ with empathy. As the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego bearing the same physical resemblance, so are we called to bear the same internal disposition as those who suffer. St. John Paul II writes in Sollicitudo rei Socialis that:
“Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are really responsible for all.”
Racism targets the very dignity and identity of a person, and completely denies than all human life is made in the image of likeness of God. Just as the Blessed Mother stood by her Son at the foot of the Cross and affirmed His identity, as well as the human dignity of St. Juan Diego, so are we called to stand with the marginalized and the afflicted, to bear their burdens as our own. Our Lady of Guadalupe said to St Juan Diego:
“Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.”
Turning our hearts towards the afflicted and bearing with them in love reflects the invitation that all Catholic women have to imitate the humility and mercy of Our Lady. In suffering with others we are able to draw nearer to the Cross together, where the mercy of Christ gives strength and a voice to those who have none. St. John Paul II states in Mulieris Dignitatem:
“The witness and the achievements of Christian women have had a significant impact on the life of the Church as well as of society. Even in the face of serious social discrimination, holy women have acted “freely,” strengthened by their union with Christ.”
Anna Harter is a FemCatholic Contributor. She is a student at the University of Virginia, where she studies International Relations and Religious Conflict. She loves football season, Polish saints, and exploring small town cafes with friends. You can find her on Instagram.