Caution: This blog contains an experience of Racism. Some of the pictures and descriptions may be upsetting to some persons.


Images of God

We had an opportunity to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois. It was my first time visiting a presidential museum and my knowledge about Abraham Lincoln (hereafter called President Lincoln) was rudimentary. I really appreciated the different media (such as life-like displays; dramatization; sound and lighting effects) that was used to educate us about the history of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency.

I stumbled upon a display that depicted “Slavery In America” (see Picture 1). As I walked into the dimly lit room, I was immersed into the anguish, fear, distress, horror, helplessness, hate, anger and indifference that characterized a “slave auction block”. The life-like display aptly depicted the trauma of a family being sold during an auction. Instinctively, I held my breath as I observed their “silent” screams. I looked at (what I interpreted to be) the mother’s agonized and pleading look to her spouse, who looked upon his wife while their son cried desperately as he (the son) held onto his mother’s dress. The father’s expression seemed to convey his pain and helplessness while seeming to also communicate (to his wife) the need for her to be strong and to persevere. All of them were restrained and were being forcibly carried away by men who wore angry, hateful or indifferent expressions as they carried on with the business of the day.

Picture 1: “Slave Auction Block” at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

Profound sadness welled up within me as I looked at their pained expressions and imagined the horror that many African families and individuals endured during slavery. As I breathed deeply, I went to another display. It effectively conveyed the history and experience of slavery in America using replicas of artefacts, photos and newsprint (see Picture 2).

Picture 2: “Slavery in America” display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

It read:

“African slavery had been a part of American culture since the early colonial period, and it had grown into an increasingly divisive and social issue in the following 200 years. It became a moral crisis tied to the economy of the country. At its most personal level, it was a demeaning and barbaric institution that destroyed families and lives. Racism was a logical outgrowth of slavery, as slave owners tried to find moral justification for their behaviour. The situation for blacks got worse as time went on and even “free” states passed laws that limited the rights of “free” blacks.

I stood transfixed as I examined the shackles used to transport or punish slaves; read notices describing runaway slaves and the rewards that were offered for them; as well as the advertisements for the grand sale of “real estate and slaves”. My eyes were then drawn to Gordon’s scars. The captioned image of Gordon read:

“The slave, Gordon, was whipped on Christmas Day 1862. Soon after, he escaped from his master and joined the Union Army to fight for freedom. These scars remained long after.”


        Overwhelmed.I felt intense sorrow as I looked upon the evil that was inflicted on human beings. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder and as I turned a Caucasian woman spoke to me. Seeing my confusion, she repeated: “I am sorry for what happened to your ancestors…”. A wave of new emotions emerged. Before she could finish her sentence, I heard laughter. The woman turned around and retorted to her companion, “I mean it…”. He responded by chuckling and pointing to something on the display. I escaped to the safety of the other room, where my novice director, Cathy Arnold OP, had been observing the dynamic. She provided a comforting presence. I felt numb, confused, and shocked. An apology? I marvelled at the vast reactions that “Slavery in America” had triggered: sorrow, empathy and comedic relief. 

   Are we not all made in the image and likeness of God? Genesis 1:26-27 confirms this infallible truth. All of creation reflects God and is imbued with God. Therefore, when we behold creation (in all its expressions), we encounter God. Similarly, when we encounter God, we also encounter all of creation. Let us take flowers for example, we understand that there are many varieties of flowers, indigenous to different places, and of varied sizes, shapes and colours.  We accept that despite their differences, they are all flowers and have the potential to make a beautiful bouquet. Human beings are also varied expressions of the same beautiful being. We reflect God and God’s divine creativity. We dishonour God when we fail to respect the dignity of all human beings. Slavery is therefore sinful. As Catholics, we are invited to sincerely confess our sin (with the intention of not repeating it) and to reconcile with God and with each other.
President Lincoln is an example of the many persons who have stood up against injustice over the years. In proclaiming the truth of equality for all, he and so many others have lost their lives. Did not our beloved Christ and the martyrs experience the same fate? As I ponder on Jesus’ passion (or martyrdom), I remember a captivating sculpture of the pieta at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church (see Picture 3).

Picture 3: The Pieta at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Chicago.

The Blessed Virgin Mary embraces the lifeless body of her son. The inscription reads: “In the sight of the unwise, they seemed to die. The breviary office for many martyrs 1914-1918”. Jesus preached a message of love, justice, mercy and inclusivity. As Christians, we are called to emulate Jesus by being bearers of radical love, mercy and truth. Persons may argue that slavery happened “so long ago”. However, it exists in different ways in the many forms of exploitation and oppression; (such as, trafficking; forced (child) labour; debt bondage or bonded labour and domestic servitude). Racism, one of the fruits of slavery, is still rampant today. Unfortunately, I continue to experience racism in the United States. 

        Many opportunities exist to speak truth; stand up against injustice; to be inclusive; to reconcile; and to be advocates for the vulnerable. How long will the cries of the oppressed go unheard? As Christians are we not all “compelled to risk our comfort and privilege to confront the evils of racism”?

Picture 4 and 5: The Cross of New Life by Ernest Caballero

I believe that the “Cross of New Life” (see Picture 4) depicts the invitation that Christ is giving to us each day to grow in love, mercy and justice: to behold the face of God in others; to respect the inherent dignity of all people; and to faithfully and boldly proclaim (and live) the Gospel. We are all called to embody and live the Gospel of Love. Picture 5 is a symbolic representation of my decision to accept Christ’s hand on this journey of faith, to love radically by God’s grace. I am committed to honour the beautiful image of our God expressed in all of creation. Will you join me?