The Archdiocese of St. Louis held the second annual “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” Maafa procession and prayer service June 17 in Downtown St. Louis.
Participants attended a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral) before a one-mile procession to St. John Apostle and Evangelist Church. Maafa, a Swahili word for “great disaster,” is a traditional procession to memorialize the lives of those lost during the Middle Passage, or transatlantic slave trade.
The prayer service featured Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry of the Archdiocese of Chicago and recently appointed chairman of the USCCB’s Ad-Hoc Committee Against Racism; Joyce Jones, director of the archdiocesan Office of Racial Harmony; the St. Louis African Ministry Choir and others.
Following that was the Maafa procession to the south pond on the grounds of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, and then toward the Old Courthouse, Keiner Plaza, the Freedom Suits Memorial and ending at St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Church.
The gathering also included a formal acknowledgment of the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ past involvement with the institution of slavery. The archdiocese has been researching that history since 2018 and formally named the project “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” in 2021.
Bishop William DuBourg (who at the time was Bishop of Louisiana and the Two Floridas, with his episcopal seat in St. Louis), Bishop Joseph Rosati and Archbishop Peter Kenrick enslaved people, as did an unknown number of clergy. The archdiocesan Archives Office has discovered the names of at least 87 enslaved people.
The archdiocese’s research in the past year has focused on Archbishop Kenrick’s relationship with enslaved persons, and understanding the role Bishops Rosati and DuBourg had in moving enslaved persons throughout the Mississippi Valley, said Eric Fair, Archives Office director.