More than 100 people accompanied Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski and several leaders from other Christian denominations on a pilgrimage of prayer March 27 to ask for God’s help in eliminating the sin of racism.
The group went on a journey representing the Way of the Cross from Downtown St. Louis to two other stops in the city, all close to significant places in the history of race relations in the community. The readings and prayers at the stations were an adaptation by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of material written by Tom Faletti for St. Peter Parish in Washington, D.C.
Father Samuel Inameti, associate pastor of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Oakville, gave the opening prayer. Earlier, he explained that as society grows more divided, “it is very important to talk about harmony and unity, knowing that we are all children of the same Father.”
The stations are a journey with the one who is love Himself, Jesus Christ, Father Inameti said. “We are trying to bring about the fulfillment of His prayer that we may be one. What a better way than showing the world that it is possible that we can all be together.”
Archbishop Rozanski concluded the Way of the Cross at its third stop — Jesus, Crucified, Cries Out in Thirst; Jesus Dies on the Cross; and Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb — at Sumner High School, with the theme of faith. “We have not treated each other as brothers and sisters,” Archbishop Rozanski said, adding that efforts to tear down racism unite us with Jesus and deepen our faith. He read from the stations’ adaptation that “Jesus makes all things new. He can transform our hearts, and He can help us transform our social structures and institutions to remove the scourge of racism.”
Also speaking at the first high school opened for African Americans west of the Mississippi were Rev. Charles Norris, president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, and Rev. Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ. Rev. Norris urged people to stand together to improve educational opportunities. “Make reading a priority,” he said.
Rev. Blackmon cited statistics showing education and health disparities in the city north of Delmar Boulevard. Systemic poverty, racism and health issues such as rates of COVID-19 infections affect that area at much higher rates, she asserted.
Among those attending the Way of the Cross was Deanna Violette, a parishioner of St. Catherine Laboure in Sappington, who said that the program held by the archdiocese’s Peace and Justice Commission and Office of Racial Harmony is “one of the most important efforts we can be doing in St. Louis. I’m here to demonstrate that faith and love conquer fear.”
Almetta “Cookie” Jordan, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in St. Louis, said, “I’m inspired by everything they said, and it all tied in. Faith without works is dead. Everyone needs to work to make someone else’s life better.”
Father Gerry Kleba, a retired parish pastor, was one of the speakers at the second stop — Jesus Takes Up His Cross; and Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross — at Gateway School, which is on the former property of the racially segregated Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project complex of 33 11-story towers which opened in the mid 1950s. Within a decade it was exclusively home to Black residents. Msgr. John Shocklee, then the pastor of St. Bridget Church across from the complex, had seen plans for it and called the units filing cabinets for people.
Father Kleba, who served at St. Bridget from 1985-95, cited other housing issues that negatively affected Blacks. He urged people to ensure that marginalized people are involved in St. Louis City’s decisions on allocating $517 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan “so we have a voice in what the future of this city is.”
People are good at sitting back and blaming others, he explained, yet they don’t understand “inactivity is activity in itself.”
The first stop was at the Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral) — with the station Jesus Is Condemned to Death. Jesuit scholastic Billy Critchley-Menor expressed gratitude to the indigenous people who lived on the land that became St. Louis and spoke of the legacy of slavery on the land. Rev. Dr. Linden Bowie, president of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri, highlighted problems in the justice system. It’s mixed with a history of racism, poor public policies, failed public education, an absence of parental guidance and other factors “that requires all of us to stand up and say it’s wrong,” he said.
Walking to her car before heading to the third stop, Barb Schell of Holy Spirit Parish in Maryland Heights, said: “I care deeply about social justice issues. I’m impressed with Archbishop Rozanski’s efforts. And this is a great way to do the last week of Lent.”