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OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi, October 4, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A grassroots movement is encouraging Catholic laity to be a good example to the clergy by wearing a modern form of sackcloth and ashes.

Lay women Lori Carter and Julie Holden have founded the “Wear Gray” movement, hoping to inspire Catholics to fast, pray, and wear penitential gray clothing to church in reparation for the sins of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up.

They take inspiration from the Ven. Fulton Sheen’s admonition to the laity not to expect the clergy to save the Catholic Church: “Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests, and our bishops to be bishops.”

In an introductory letter, Carter and Holden explain that their grassroots movement is born of a “deep desire to bring our church back to what is holy and sacred.” They ask that priests, bishops, and cardinals “humbly offer honest reparation for the sins of the church,” act to bring criminals to “swift justice,” and support victims, the laity, and members of religious orders.

The scriptural underpinnings of their movement are supplied by the Book of Jonah. In the story of Jonah’s mission to Nineveh, the prophet warns the great city that God will destroy it in 40 days. In response, the people themselves proclaim a fast and wear sackcloth. The king and his nobles then do the same and decree that everyone, including animals, will fast, wear sackcloth, “cry mightily to God,” and “turn from their evil ways.”

“Who knows?” the Ninevites say. “God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”  

As the Wear Gray organizers observe, God is moved by this “universal penance” and does not destroy the city.

“Hearing the cry of the people of Nineveh, the Lord changed the king’s and princes’ hearts and had mercy because of their universal reparation and repentance (Jonah 3: 1- 10),” they wrote.

In lieu of literal sackcloth and ashes, the organizers have hit on the idea of ordinary gray clothing as suitably penitential garments.

“Gray is the color of ashes, starkness, purgatory, and penance,” they state.