The 1,500 people attending the annual archdiocesan Black History Month Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral were told that living out the liturgy’s theme of “Share the Journey” meant “sharing the burden, sharing the struggle, sharing the cause of resisting injustice.”
Father Patrick Smith, the pastor of St. Augustine parish in Washington, D.C., was the guest homilist at the Feb. 4 Mass. St. Augustine’s is the mother church of African-American Catholics in the nation’s capital.
The principal celebrant, Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh, was joined by 22 concelebrants, including Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of the cathedral, and Father Gregory Chisholm, S.J., dean of Central Harlem and pastor of St. Charles Borromeo-Resurrection parish. The afternoon Mass featured soulful Gospel-style music and some of the faithful dressed in traditional African tribal clothing. The liturgy was celebrated in English, Creole, French and several African languages.
“It’s about sharing responsibility—to be there for justice, and sharing the cause of spreading the Good News of the Gospel, and sharing the victory that we have in Jesus,” Father Smith said in his homily.
“That’s why we’re here today, to share our common faith, our faith in God...Make prayer essential in your life. We are all here for a reason, but only for a season. Fight the good fight; keep the faith; speak the truth to power.”
He went on to talk about the significance of the African continent as the land of origin of all black people, no matter their language or culture. And he spoke about the importance of family and trusting in the Lord. “We talk about the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That means God himself is family,” Father Smith noted, adding that through grace and divine words, the Lord “tells us how beautiful and precious we are.”
The pastor, citing the first reading from Job 7, spoke about maintaining faith in the Lord despite personal struggles, and societal ills such as racism. He noted that many of the struggles stem from indifference, and said a focus on division leads to conflict, but faith can change all that.
The occasion was also held in commemoration of the National Day of Prayer for the African-American and African Family. Among the faithful was Rose Amadasu, 78, a parishioner of St. Frances of Rome in the Bronx who was born and raised in Nigeria.
Speaking with CNY, Mrs. Amadasu, who is a retired nurse, said, “I’m here to support the Mass; we came in a group. I liked the homily; it was beautiful. The message pertains to all of us, about the journey—about what Job went through, about keeping the faith...And he (Father Smith) said to be the light. Where there is darkness, be the light.”
Another Mass-goer was Junior Galette, 26, a parishioner of St. Joseph in Spring Valley, who was born and raised in Haiti. “I’m here to be part of this beautiful celebration for Black History Month,” Galette told CNY amid joyful sounds of choir music before Mass.
“I like the music very much; it is very beautiful and spiritual.”
Galette said he was thankful to the organizers for the special gathering, noting that he is a lifelong Catholic and that his faith is central to his life.
Closing words came from Brother Tyrone Davis, O.F.M., executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry, which sponsored the Mass. “I ask that you continue to share the journey,” he said.
The second collection helped support The Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund, and the College Pierre Toussaint in Haiti. Music was provided by the Voices of Victory – St. John’s University Gospel Choir, and by a Combined Choir from various parishes in the archdiocese. The music director was Dr. Br’Von Neal from St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem.