Speaking for the LORD in Deuteronomy, Moses urges the Israelites:
Not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.
As I too rapidly become an “elder,” the injunction from Moses “not to forget” is all the more important to continue the work for a more just world. I still can recall: my all-white Catholic parish and elementary school in New Orleans … whispers about a lynching overheard on a bus returning home through Mississippi as a high school freshman … riots by whites when the public streetcars, buses, and schools were integrated … admission of the first Black students to Jesuit High School New Orleans only in my senior year … segregated doctors’ offices near our novitiate in Southwest Louisiana … and much more.“Lest we forget” is a phrase commonly used in war remembrance services and commemorations in English speaking countries. But it applies as well to the Holocaust, slavery, lynching, genocide, and other vivid examples of human cruelty and injustice. Remembering is important to sustain the long-term struggle to eliminate such atrocities from our lives and our world.
When Moses urges his listeners to remember, he emphasizes the good and loving deeds of God in their midst. They are not to forget and to teach God’s love to their children and next generations. And, as the psalm response teaches, we are to praise God for this loving history. So, too, as we learned in the acclaim for the civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis who died in July, we also must remember and imitate the often unsung heroines and heroes who today continue to walk long miles with people who are poor, marginalized, and excluded.
- What memories sustain my own commitments to social, racial, and environmental justice?
- Who are the people whose lives inspire me to work for justice, peace, and the environment?
- What do I never want to forget?
Fr. Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D., is a priest, an attorney, and a member of the Central and Southern Province of the Jesuits. He has been director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) since March 2009. JSRI works to transform the Gulf South through action research, analysis, education, and advocacy on the core issues of poverty, race, and migration. The Institute is a collaboration of Loyola University New Orleans and the Society of Jesus rooted in the faith that does justice. Fr. Kammer is the editor and regular contributor to JSRI’s publication “Just South” and writes regular columns on Catholic Social Teaching and current issues.
From 2002 to 2008, Kammer was the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province, guiding their post-Katrina recovery and service to the devastated region’s poor and needy. From 1992 to 2001, he was the President/CEO of Catholic Charities USA, the nation’s largest voluntary human service network. Kammer has worked in a number of programs for the underprivileged, both as a lay volunteer, an attorney, an advocate, and an administrator. From 1990 to 1992, he was the Policy Advisor for Health and Welfare Issues, Department of Social Development and World Peace, U.S. Catholic Conference. Prior to that, from 1984 to 1989, he was Executive Director of Catholic Community Services of Baton Rouge, Inc. Earlier, from 1977 to 1983, he was Director of the Senior Citizens Law Project of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. Fr. Kammer is a former member of the Ignatian Solidarity Network board of directors.
Kammer’s first book, “Doing Faithjustice: An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought,” was published by Paulist Press in 1991. The book is considered by many to be essential reading for those committed to the “faith that does justice” and is used as a textbook for social justice and morality classes in high schools and colleges. He is also the author of “Salted with Fire: Spirituality for the Faithjustice Journey” and most recently, “Faith. Works. Wonders.: An Insider’s Guide to Catholic Charities.”