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'We're brothers and sisters'

FAIRFIELD, Ala. | He started out as just some guy joining us for lunch.

Mr. Joe sat down with us at St. Mary's Parish in Fairfield for a traditional Indian lunch prepared by the pastor, Fr. Alphonse Nelson, a Passionist priest and one of a growing number of Indian clergy being brought to the Birmingham Diocese to help minister amidst a shortage of priests. Like everyone else gathered for the monthly meeting for clergy and representatives of the African American Catholic parishes, Mr. Joe ate with us and carried on the usual lighthearted small talk.

Then, he became the reason for this trip.

"When I walk into a church I shouldn't be identified as an African American," the 80-year-old widower said. "I'm a human being."

Labels allow us to compartmentalize people, just like things. Bu, people aren't things you can put into a well-organized drawer. We're individuals. We're human beings made in the image and likeness of God. We're His children. We are all part of the human family, and convenient labels have a way of downgrading - if not erasing - that notion.

"I don't have the answer took the problem, but I know until we stop subdividing groups we can't get there," he said. "We're brothers and sisters. It has to begin there."

A Baptist convert, Mr. Joe was a lasting reminder of the importance of mutual acceptance, not based on who we are, but that we are.

"We are here because he determined I was going to be Joe," he said, choking back tears. "I'm here because he put me where he wanted me to be."

Thank you for being, Mr. Joe.

Give me Jesus. You may have all this world, Give me Jesus. Amen.

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