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People held hands and bowed heads during a Maafa event in 2017 in New Orleans.
People held hands and bowed heads during a Maafa event in 2017 in New Orleans.
Photo Credit: Photo by Gason Ayisyin | courtesy Ashé Cultural Arts Center

“Forgive Us Our Tresspasses” prayer service and Maafa commemorates slave trade and its role in St. Louis history

June 18 event to be held at Old Cathedral

The Archdiocese of St. Louis and its Office of Racial Harmony will host “Forgive Us Our Trespasses,” a prayer service and Maafa commemoration and procession from 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, June 18, at the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral).

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.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski and other area faith leaders will begin with a prayer service at 9 a.m., recalling historical sites in St. Louis related to the slave trade and the enslavement of Africans. The event also will include a formal acknowledgement of the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ past involvement with the institution of slavery.

The archdiocese has been researching its involvement in the slave trade as part of an effort called “Forgive Us Our Trespasses.”

Afterward, there will be a procession from the Old Cathedral to a closing ceremony on the grounds of the Gateway Arch. Participants are encouraged to wear white to honor those who died.

Speakers include Church historian Msgr. Michael Witt; Father Jeffrey Harrison, SJ, with the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project; Father Art Cavitt, executive director of the St. Charles Lwanga Center and pastor of St. Nicholas Parish in St. Louis; Rev. Anthony Riley, senior pastor of Central Baptist Church; Rev. Anthony Witherspoon of Washington Metropolitan AME; Nikki Williams Sebastian, graduate of Rosati-Kain and area genealogist; Rev. Brandon Wilkes, co-pastor of Peoples Church STL and executive director of the St. Louis Reconciliation Network; Father Peter Faimega, parochial administrator of St. Norbert Parish in Florissant; and Judge David Mason, who will speak about the Freedom Suits Memorial.

Danielle Harrison, director of mission and charism at Cor Jesu Academy, will emcee the event. Local artist and musician David A.N. Jackson will perform African drumming throughout.

The Maafa is not just a remembrance of those who did not survive the slave trade, but also a celebration of Africans who were freed, said Joyce Jones, director of the Office of Racial Harmony. “We’re celebrating the resilience of our ancestors and the contributions they have made to this nation,” she said. “We’re proud to be able to share with people that African Americans are part of that history.”

For more information on the June 18 event, see bitly.ws/rCCV.

A story on the history of Maafa processions can be read here: https://stlreview.com/3MQTJmD.

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