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Juneteenth Offers Important Reminder to Work for Freedom, Justice Today, Cardinal Says

FORESTVILLE (OSV News) – Celebrating a special Mass June 18 at Mount Calvary Parish in Forestville to commemorate the June 19 federal holiday the next day, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington said the historic event offers an important reminder of work for freedom and justice.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell Jr. concelebrated the Mass which, in addition to Mount Calvary parishioners, was attended by members of the Knights of Peter Claver and his Ladies Auxiliary.

Juneteenth – also known as Freedom Day – occurred on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which proclaimed that all enslaved people should be freed ( two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation).

Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory smiles June 15, 2023, during the spring plenary assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Orlando, Fla. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

In his homily, the cardinal spoke about the importance of June 19 for Catholics of color.

“We people of color here in the United States have a long tradition of interpreting the word of God as directly related to our lived situation,” said Cardinal Gregory, who is the most senior African-American Catholic prelate. ranking officer. “The Exodus story of escaping Pharaoh’s slavery from our Hebrew brothers and sisters and our own exodus from slavery is perhaps the most frequently applied biblical analogy in our history.”

He explained that at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, social media was not available to help spread the news.

“It took a considerable time for its authenticity and implications to reach the confines of the nation. Not everyone was concerned with publicizing the freedom of those who were once slaves,” Cardinal Gregory said.

The cardinal told people at Mass that it was up to them to lead by example in fighting injustice.

“The kingdom of heaven is a land of perfect freedom and peace, it will be the ultimate reign of justice and joy. Even with all of our effective means of communication now available, the message has still not reached all ears or all hearts,” Cardinal Gregory said. “The kingdom of heaven is still ahead of us, but we are on the way, despite the obstacles we face.”

People received a free raffle ticket upon entering the church. After Communion, Peter Claver’s Knights presented the Cardinal with a quilt, a framed piece, and two pillows with the Cardinal’s image on them which were raffled off, and the Cardinal then read out the winning numbers.

Cardinal Gregory then asked all fathers to stand for a Father’s Day blessing before the closing prayer of the Mass.

Mount Calvary parish music director Gail Ruffin told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, how she selected the hymns to reflect the early June 19 celebration, including “Use Me,” “Center of My Joy” and “Oh Lord, How excellent.

Ruffin said it was important for people to reflect on the day with their values ​​as Catholics in mind.

“It’s about me (and) how important it is, how freedom is so important. Civil rights, understanding who we are as a people, understanding all the talents we have. I know that I get emotional, but that’s the truth. We work as hard as anybody else of any faith, any color,” Ruffin said.

For Ruffin, her Catholic faith is an extension of her identity as a woman of color, especially through her music ministry.

“What did they do while they picked the cotton, planted the seeds? They were singing and they were singing the music of God,” Ruffin said.

She hopes Mass attendees take time to “reflect on themselves, who they are, how they treat people, where they are in their faith and how they express themselves.”

The United States continues to fight against racism and equality. Although Ruffin knows there is still a lot of work to do, she said her beliefs put what matters first.

“Can we all be one? I may not live to see it, and that’s okay, because I know I took an integral part in it. But yeah, we’re all going to be one, because that’s what we believe, that’s what we believe as people, as Christians. That’s what we believe,” Ruffin said.

Vincent Wilkins Jr., former national advocate for the Knights of Peter Claver, noted that his lay fraternal order is the oldest organization run by lay Black Catholics still in operation. Wilkins joined as a teenager in Louisiana.

“I was 15 or 16. … I did it because I realized we needed a presence,” Wilkins said.

The Knights of Peter Claver and its Ladies Auxiliaries were established in 1909 and named after St. Peter Claver, a Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary who is the patron saint of slaves, African missions and interracial justice. St. Peter Claver served slaves on ships in the 17th century.

“Peter Claver’s Knights are an insurance company. It was done because…insurance companies didn’t insure black people. So we needed something to be able to bury our black dead,” Wilkins said. “What you see here is Peter Claver’s fraternal order of Knights.”

Wilkins said he hopes to continue to see progress on racial justice in the United States.

“I was born and raised a Catholic, but I don’t think the Catholic Church as a whole has treated black Catholics with the respect they should have,” Wilkins said. “Our legacy is that original sin of slavery in the United States of America. And we’re not going to get over that soon, but I hope and pray that at some point we will. Maybe to be in the next millennia.

Read Archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori’s June 16 message: A Message from Archbishop William Lori: June 16, 2023

Read more Racial Justice

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