Bishop Richard J. Malone has teamed up with the local Episcopal Bishop R. William Franklin to ask Western New York to include women and minorities in the growth of Buffalo.
In a groundbreaking pastoral letter co-written by the bishops, they remarked on the new prosperity in the city of Buffalo marked by construction, new businesses and investment growth. The bishops do not want to see any citizen of the area left out of any newfound prosperity.
"A new generation of Western New Yorkers is envisioning new opportunities and making them a reality. With regard to education, medicine, technology and quality of life, this is the time for which we have all waited and prayed and worked. This wave of prosperity benefits not only the city, but the entire region," they wrote. "Yet at this time not everyone is benefitting. Blacks and Hispanics still live in poverty in greater proportion than do other groups in our population. Children still go to bed hungry. Jobs and security elude too many families. And because some are left out and locked out, the rest of us are poorer. We fail to benefit as much as we might from this new golden age."
During a Dec. 9 press conference to announce the letter, Bishop Richard J. Malone said, "I would say the first thing we're trying to do, after quite a bit of dialogue between us on this, is really to raise consciousness among our own parishioners, both in the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses. Perhaps in a humble way to suggest, here is a lens that the two bishops are providing to which we as Christians can look, both at the reasons for hope right now with the development happening in our area, but also to see the challenges and opportunities to make sure what is happening becomes inclusive of the broad spectrum of our people.
Bishop Franklin added, "I think we're saying this is a great moment of renewal for Buffalo and the region, but it's also a moment of renewal of Christian values, of dignity and opening dignity to all people. We are speaking as bishops to our own people, but we're also speaking to business and political leaders to say, 'Let us not lose this opportunity to create a new city, which is beyond a new city of hotels and apartment buildings, but a new city of justice.' We think it's a fantastic opportunity for growth, not just economically, but spiritual growth for our region."
Bishop Franklin compares the economic divide to the Snowvember storm, where he could see the sun shining on the city, but a wall of snow falling on the Southtowns.
"That is a symbol of a reality of our region that is still divided by racial division, and still divided by gender division, because not full opportunity is given to women in the workforce. We are really talking about a wall that we sometimes forget," he said. "This moment of economic opportunity allows us an opportunity to address that wall and say that all can rise together. This is part of the message of the Gospel."
The bishops are calling for equal opportunities for employment particularly underlying women and racial minorities as new restaurants, factories and hotels are being built and opening.
"Economic opportunity leads to human dignity. That's a reality," Bishop Franklin said. "So it's a spiritual value to open the workforce to a more diverse population. It's good business, because it's opening a perspective of people who may be left out of a boardroom or a workplace."
Bishop Franklin thanks Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, and their One Buffalo campaign.
"They are very committed to the hiring of women. They're very committed to the hiring of minorities and immigrants in their construction projects and their works. So we already have great leaders, but what we're doing is asking our own people to be aware of this, to be conscious of things that might have slipped through," he said.
Bishop Malone hopes all people, even those not in a position to hire, will begin to ponder this call.
"Every single Christian, whether they are in a position of leadership or not, I think, is called upon to tend to the concerns we put out there. How they will respond to that in their own communities, it will take time to see. This is to support those who are already moving in that direction and also to stimulate the attention and commitment of others. So hopefully there will be a lot of conversations in our parishes around this," he said.
Parishes should ask, what we are doing for our neighbors and what could we do?
"I hope the people in the pew will read the statement, listen to the statement," said Bishop Franklin. "I hope they will take serious the step being taken, that two bishops were able to do this together. This will be news to many people in Western New York, that we were close enough that we could do this together. Then that they will join in the conversation, join in a conversation with someone who is not in their own community and try to begin to understand what is on the other side of that wall. Then I hope leaders in our pews, if they are involved in hiring and serving, will say, am I inviting all of God's people into our community, that I have to hire people, to advance people, to train people."
"A letter like this one, I think, is an invitation to everybody who reads it and those who have written it, to an ongoing examination of our own consciousness around these issues," Bishop Malone said.
The joint letter written by a Roman Catholic bishop and Episcopal bishop is a rare occurrence.
"It's probably never happened between our two dioceses, and probably rarely happened in any other parts of the United States, that an Episcopal bishop and a Roman Catholic bishop have issued a joint pastoral," said Bishop Franklin. "That has an importance because when bishops issue a pastoral like this, we're saying you really need to read this or make this available. It's a solemn moment when two bishops speak like this. I think the fact that we feel comfortable to speak together is a sign of the kind of energy that we want our region to project. We're trying to symbolize bringing our communities together to speak together, so that in other ways communities may be brought together."
"I look at this moment as a first important step in probably a lot of other things the bishop and I will do together as the years unfold," added Bishop Malone.