A new committee established by the U.S. bishops in the wake of a deadly white supremacist march on Charlottesville, Virginia, has called on Catholics to observe an annual Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities on September 9, the Feast of St. Peter Claver.
“St. Peter Claver is a model for us in understanding that hard work and perseverance is required to combat the sin of racism and build community; we must begin and end this effort in prayer together, even as we seek to act in concrete ways,” said Youngstown Bishop George Murry, the head of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
The new committee was initiated by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and will “focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our Church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions.”
It was a direct response to the events surrounding the August 11-12 rally in Charlottesville organized to protest the removal of a Confederate statue of General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville on August 11-12. The event has been described as the largest gathering of white supremacists – hundreds attended – in recent United States history.
After a state-of-emergency was declared by the City of Charlottesville, a car was driven into a crowd of anti-protestors killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring twenty others.
The new committee comes on the heels of the conclusion of a previous task force, “Peace in Our Communities,” in response to a series of race-related police shootings.
“Last year, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, then-President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for a day of prayer for peace in our communities at a time of intense strife over police-related shootings,” Murry said in a statement on September 1. “Archbishop Kurtz also formed a Task Force that, among other things, recommended that the National Day of Prayer become an annual observance. As the Chairman of the newly-formed Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, it is my honor to continue this call for prayer, and to do so every year on this feast.”
Claver was a Spanish-born Jesuit priest who dedicated his life to ministering to people enslaved by the African slave trade. In 1610, the priest arrived in what is now Colombia, but then was part of the Spanish-ruled Kingdom of New Grenada. He worked tirelessly to improve the lives of those he served, and heroically sought an abolition of the slave trade.
He was canonized in 1888, and is a patron for African-American Catholics. The Knights of Peter Claver, the largest African-American Catholic fraternal organization in the United States, was established in 1909.
The new committee has put resources for the day – including a prayer card, prayers of the faithful to be used at Mass, bishops’ statements, teaching resources, and stories of how faith communities around the country are working for racial justice on the bishops’ conference website at www.usccb.org/racism.