First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Faith, Freedom and Focus Stressed at Black History Month
By ARMANDO MACHADO
Chris Sheridan
A procession of altar servers leaves the sanctuary at the end of the annual Black History Month Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Feb. 5. The altar servers were from St. Luke’s parish, the Bronx; St. Aloysius, Harlem; and St. Paul the Apostle, Manhattan.

It was a gathering celebrating faith, culture and the black family as Cardinal Dolan served as principal celebrant of the annual Black History Month Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

More than 1,000 men, women and children gathered for the special afternoon Mass on Feb. 5, the same day as Super Bowl Sunday.

“We are in a Christian race, where black faith matters,” said Auxiliary Bishop Fernand J. Cheri of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, who was the guest homilist.

The requirements for the journey, the bishop said, are faith, freedom and focus—faith such as that of St. Martin de Porres, Venerable Pierre Toussaint and other prominent black figures in the history of the Church. He also mentioned Simon of Cyrene, who helped Christ carry his cross.

As for freedom, the bishop noted the importance of freeing oneself from things “that dampen our enthusiasm for the things of God, anything that dims our vision of Christ.”

In speaking about focus, Bishop Cheri said, “We must be looking constantly to Jesus...He is our example and our empowerment. I want to run all the way, with the flame of my torch still lit for Jesus.”

The annual gathering at the cathedral celebrates the National Day of Prayer for the African-American and African Family. “This is the first Sunday of Black History Month,” Cardinal Dolan said in his welcoming remarks, thanking Bishop Cheri for concelebrating the Mass. The cardinal later noted that the event also celebrates black families from the Caribbean.

Venerable Pierre Toussaint, whose cause for canonization was officially opened by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1991, was born a slave in Haiti and died a free man in New York City. His charitable endeavors here in the 19th century led him to be credited by many with being the father of Catholic Charities in New York.

Several people took turns reading the general intercessions, and a child led them: the first reader was fourth-grader Nevaeh Blake of Mount Carmel-Holy Rosary School in Manhattan who prayed for Church leaders. The intercessions were also for world leaders and a respect for life; for African-American and African families; for vocations; for those in special need; for Venerable Pierre Toussaint; and for the dead. The intercessions were read in English, Creole and African languages.

The leaders of song were Dr. Kim R. Harris and Michael Whitaker. Many of the hymns were sung with Gospel-style rhythm, and others in African-tribal style accompanied with drums beats. The hymns included “Trading My Sorrows,” “My God Loves Me” and “Walk In The Light.” The opening procession included some people clad with traditional, colorful African tribal clothing.

Cardinal Dolan thanked all those who took part in organizing the Mass, led by Brother Tyrone A. Davis, C.F.C., the executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry.

Kay O. Stanley, a parishioner of St. Sylvester on Staten Island, told CNY that the Mass was a homecoming of sorts for her. “I was baptized here in St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” Ms. Stanley said in an interview before Mass.

Ms. Stanley, who teaches at a public middle school in Queens, said that during Black History Month she includes special related lessons “so that my students are aware of the struggles that blacks went through in this country; many of my students are immigrants, from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico...This Mass is very important, especially because of the (social and political) climate of the country right now; people feel very disenfranchised.

“I think the Church is the best place to try to bring people together as a nation. I hope that we see more blacks in power—more blacks empowering themselves. Our youth must understand that you have to know your past in order to go forward.” 

Francis Adikah, a parishioner of St. Luke’s in the Bronx who is originally from Ghana, spoke with CNY after Mass. “This unites the black community, and it increases our faith. It helps us to know our culture, where we come from—we become one in Christ, one body, one heart, one mind, and one soul; we come together and worship the Lord,” said Adikah, who was joined by his wife, Juliet. The Adikahs have three children.

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