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EDITORIAL | Covington incident offers lessons on discernment and perception vs. reality

Covington incident offers lessons on discernment and perception vs. reality

As more details have emerged from an incident involving Covington Catholic High School students and others, we’ve been reminded that not everything is as simple as videos sometimes portray. Context matters.

Additional video footage from the Jan. 18 incident at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. showed the involvement of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were shouting disparaging remarks at the Catholic students. A priest from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Msgr. Patrick Hambrough of St. Mark Parish in south St. Louis County, said he became the target of some of the group’s remarks. The priest said he was impressed with how quickly the Covington Catholic students came to his defense.

“They took all of about two seconds to come over and show support,” Msgr. Hambrough said. “They were quick to come over and shake hands and say kind things. I won’t forget that.”

Msgr. Hambrough said he was disturbed when he first saw the first video, which appeared to show students in a confrontation with a Native American protestor.

“I was thinking, how could those guys be so nice to me and so mean to this elderly (Native American) man? I was upset thinking if I had seen that when I was at the Lincoln Memorial, I would have gone over and told those boys back off, be quiet, show some respect here.”

But the priest, like many others, didn’t have the whole story before making a judgment. In addition to the actions of the Black Hebrew Israelites, Native American elder Nathan Phillips had approached the Covington Catholic students. The students later said they were confused when he approached them as he played his drum, but otherwise did not interact with them.

All of the involved parties have said that they’ve been misunderstood and that partial videos have been taken out of context. Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Ky., announced a third-party investigation to uncover the truth of what happened that day.

Regardless of what comes of the situation, missing from this story is a lack of respect for others who have differing viewpoints. In a culture that demands speedy information and seeks small reasons to dismiss opposing views, we are losing our ability to discern and look for the best in others.

“What I didn’t do and what I try to do as a pastor is look for the best in people,” Msgr. Hambrough said. “I didn’t give those kids the benefit of the doubt, even though I know they had done good to me.”

Similarly, with the family who is struggling to pay tuition for their children to attend Catholic school, we should first admire them for their desire to receive a Catholic education. Likewise, the person who comes to a food pantry seeking assistance should not be judged for wearing a new pair of tennis shoes.

Those aren’t just the marks of good virtue — they’re the qualities that Christ demands of us. How are we to be the face of Christ of others if we don’t see Christ in others ourselves?

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