Diocesan schools, parishes, campus ministries celebrate Mass for "Peace Among People of all Races"
FORT WORTH — In a society consumed by social unrest, division, and racial tension, North Texas Catholics carved time from their busy lives September 9 to pray for racial harmony and an end to civil discord.
The Day of Prayer for “Peace Among People of all Races,” called by Bishop Michael Olson and observed on the Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, brought together parishioners, students, and clergy for the celebration of Mass at different locations across the diocese. Participants were reminded that prayer — not violence — is the way to achieve justice and dignity for every human person.
For those unable to attend Mass, the bishop suggested saying the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel along with performing a spiritual or corporal work of mercy for peace.
At Nolan Catholic High School, where the Mass was livestreamed into classrooms to observe social distancing guidelines, Bishop Olson asked students to remember the Golden Rule’s command to love one another and “treat each other with both justice and mercy as found in the natural law God has written in our hearts.”
Civil laws are unjust whenever they are contrary to natural law.
“Authentic justice is brought about first by conversion of heart and then, when necessary, through a change in the laws of the state,” he pointed out.
The bishop said St. Peter Claver, a 17th century Jesuit priest, exemplified what it means to recognize all people are created in God’s image and likeness. Sent to South America where he cared for the physical and spiritual needs of African slaves arriving in crowded ships from their homeland, the Spanish missionary clothed their naked bodies, bandaged their wounds, and introduced them to Jesus Christ.
“Peter Claver saw their dignity and made himself their servant,” Bishop Olson explained.
Following the Mass, many Nolan students and teachers asked for a copy of the bishop’s homily.
“They felt it was really empowering and want the opportunity to reflect more on his words,” said Leah Rios, Nolan Catholic president. “What the bishop said will help them learn how to react and maneuver through the difficulties and challenges out there with integrity and character.”
Everyone has value
The young people Gabe Gutierrez meets at Texas Christian University are receptive to the idea that at every stage of life — despite nationality, creed, abilities, or disabilities — a person has value.
“And it’s not because of anything we’ve accomplished,” the campus minister tells students who come to TCU’s Catholic Newman Center. “It’s not because of the way we look, or the place where we were born. It’s because God breathed the breath of life into us.”
Undergraduates attending the Sept. 9 Mass at the W. Berry Street center heard Father Jonathan Wallis tell them hatred of anyone, especially on the basis of race, denies recognition of God the Father, who created all people in His image and likeness.
“In the Church, we learn to love as Christ loved and live as brothers and sisters guided by a common Father with the common goal of eternal life,” said the vicar general, who also serves as director/chaplain of TCU’s Newman Center. “Let us be instruments of the peace of Jesus Christ in the midst of all going on today.”
His message encouraged TCU freshman Monica Nieto, who as a Mexican American, feels strongly about racial injustice.
“I’m very proud the Catholic Church is addressing these issues — not just because of the current protests — but because racial injustice doesn’t line up with Catholic teaching,” said the St. Stephen in Weatherford parishioner. “Jesus Christ instructed us to treat every human being with dignity, so we should always do that.”
Learning from a saint
Jonathan Olivares, co-president of the University Catholic Community at the University of Texas at Arlington, said praying for peace and an end to civil discord at the Sept. 9 Mass provided an opportunity for self-reflection about how we treat other people.
“People need to know what’s going on and fix the social injustice that’s been happening,” commented the college senior, who attended the liturgy celebrated by Father John Robert Skeldon in the UCC building. “But that should be done in a peaceful manner.”
In his homily, the priest, who serves as rector at St. Patrick Cathedral, described how St. Peter Claver made himself a “slave to the slaves” as a way to let the shackled Africans know God still cared for them.
“He brought a sense of hope to those suffering such inhumane cruelty,” Fr. Skeldon said, calling slavery and abortion intrinsic evils.
Forces in today’s society are trying to divide people based on historical reasons that go back centuries, “and we lose sight of the common good and humanity we all share,” he added.
The homilist urged his listeners to promote, sustain, and encourage others to know their God-given dignity.
“Use St. Peter Claver as a profound example to enter fully into the lives of those who cross our path without discrimination, superiority, or sense of entitlement, and simply as brothers and sisters walking together to encounter our living and loving God,” he said in closing.
Members of the UTA Catholic community read a letter written by St. Peter Claver in 1627 before coming to Mass. The dispatch offered, in detail, the misery and illness witnessed by the missionary as he approached captives from a newly docked slave ship.
“Our young people can learn from this saint who ministered to slaves in the presence of their owners who did nothing for them,” said Jeff Hedglen, UTA’s campus minister. “He gave them human dignity by being countercultural.”
The Mass was an important way to address racial harmony because it couched the issue with the need for prayer.
“Prayer is one of our most powerful modes to enact change in our own selves and society,” he added. “Prayer that changes us on the inside can prompt us to act differently outside.”