The small television that sits on our kitchen counter between the knife block and the coffee maker was flecked with dried brown batter bits from my son’s attempt at making brownies the night before. As I carefully scrubbed the splatter with the corner of a sponge on Saturday morning, I watched the news, which was concluding its coverage of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead—most of them women of Asian descent. As the segment ended, the cameraman zoomed in on two glass prayer candles that burned brightly where they were left on the sidewalk as part of a makeshift memorial. The countenance of Jesus that graced one slender, intricately decorated candle was beautiful and serene.
In the days following the Atlanta spa killings, debate has ensued over whether or not the shooting was a hate crime. What is not up for debate is that violent attacks against Asians have skyrocketed over the past year, and many Asian Americans are afraid.
Prior to Friday night’s brownie baking debacle, we were in the kitchen eating pizza, as Lent + Friday = pizza for many Catholic families with teenage boys. In between bites, my husband admitted that the violent acts targeting Asians had him worried, and my oldest son nodded in agreement. They are Chinese—my husband (and therefore, my sons)—but I was surprised to hear that they were worried. Looking at the three of them towering over the open pizza box, I saw only a confident and robust wall of men. Granted, they were likely more worried for female relatives, especially older ones like Bobo (“grandma” in Chinese). But they were truly concerned, and I, of Anglo-Saxon descent, felt guilty for not innately and instinctively feeling what they felt.
It is always comforting to remember that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it” (John 1:5). In a year that has been blighted with incidents of violence aimed at racial minorities, there have been bright spots. For example, the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC, hosted a virtual "Christianity Beyond East and West: A Celebration of the Lunar New Year" event last month. My husband’s grandfather was a Chinese Catholic author of some renown (as well as China’s former ambassador to the Vatican), and a reading of his poetry was part of the celebration. How great is that—an event to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the shrine of Saint John Paul II!
I think it could help for us to take a moment and recall what made Saint John Paul II such a beloved peacemaker, not only among Catholics but among people of various religions and ethnicities worldwide. He was a pioneer in interfaith bridge-building, recognizing Muslims and Jews as partners in spirituality. He made pastoral visits to 129 countries during his time as pope. And he spread messages of love and acceptance wherever he went.
Let us pray for the victims of the Atlanta-area shootings, and for all lives violently lost at the hands of men who did not love as Christ loved.
I leave us with these words from Saint John Paul II:
“Yours is the gigantic task of overcoming all evil with good, always trying amidst the problems of life to place your trust in God, knowing that his grace supplies strength to human weakness. You must oppose every form of hatred with the invincible power of Christ’s love.”