Monday, July 9, 2018

St. Louis: St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church

St. Alphonsus Liguori "the Rock" Catholic Church, St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.

When I visited Toronto a couple of years ago, it refreshed me to hear a common theme on various public platforms: "We cherish our interculturalism, our varied complexions, our diverse languages."

Is it Kumbaya Land in Toronto? Of course not. But at least there is the public embrace of interculturalism as a national value.

Would that it were so in the United States. Instead, we apply the phrase "political correctness" as a sneer, a smirk. As if being inclusive is a bad thing.  

This thought is my lead-in to a Sunday in July at St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church.

My nonagenarian aunt attended St. Alphonsus Liguori High School way back in the day. Then, the church was predominantly white. In 1945, the Archbishop Cardinal Ritter directed the integration of all Catholic churches in the St. Louis Diocese. Today "the Rock" is predominantly African-American. (A brief history of the church here.)

When I think of African-American Catholics, I think of:

Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, Louisiana;

Knights of Peter Claver (established in 1909) - and wonder why I never knew about this organization until I moved to Louisiana, despite my having been raised Catholic; and

This bit of Louisiana history, which James Lee Burke described in his book, Creole Belle (2012): 
We crossed Lafourche and Jefferson Parishes and flew over Barataria Bay and then crossed the long umbilical cord of land extending into the Gulf known as Plaquemines Parish, the old fiefdom of Leander Perez, a racist and dictatorial politician who ordered a Catholic church padlocked when the archbishop installed a black man as pastor.
Note: Unable to find this precise historical datum, but here is a similar situation that involved Mr. Perez and an African-American priest in Placquemines Parish. 

Anyway, on this particular Sunday in July, I attended Mass at St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church, and:

The entrance processional walked to the altar to the accompaniment of the church choir, which sang a version of the Truthettes' Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus:

The entrance processional was a fusion of our Americanness. It included the ceremonial fragrance of smoking frankincense from East and North Africa and the Middle East, held in a round, wooden, tasseled bowl of African influence, carried by an African-American woman, barefoot, dressed in a caftan that bespoke traditional African dress.

The choir covered New Direction's song, When All God's Children (aka What a Time) during the preparation of the gifts:

During communion, the choir sang Dorothy Norwood's and Alvin Darling's Somebody Prayed For Me:

The choir sent us on our way with This Little Light of Mine:

I didn't think overmuch about the song, This Little Light of Mine, outside of its pleasing sound and lyrics ... until this came across my newsfeed from NPR: 'This Little Light of Mine' Shines On, A Timeless Tool of Resistance.

The introduction to this article:
Ask Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris, and she'll tell you plainly: You can't just sing "This Little Light of Mine." You gotta shout it: 

"Everywhere I go, Lord, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!"

On a Monday morning, Harris' powerful voice fills the small church right next to the Albany Civil Rights Institute in Georgia. She's showing them how she and her fellow Freedom Singers — a renowned quartet that raised money for student activists during the civil rights movement — belted out songs to get through dangerous protests.

..... a unifying affirmation that gives the crowd a taste of that feeling from the 1960s. She says the song helped steady protestors' nerves as abusive police officers threatened to beat them or worse.

And later in the article: "Last year, Reverend Osagyefo Sekou used 'This Little Light of Mine' to curb passions during a counter-protest, before a crowd of white supremacists and alt-right supporters gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va."

A video of that singing here:

This is yet another example for me of how we are surrounded by history in our everyday lives. A song. A mural. The style of earrings a woman wears; the width and arch of her eyebrows. The waistband on a pair of jeans. How we do our hair. A flag. The name of a street. The route of a road. The cluster of volunteer irises on the side of an empty stretch of road. Why Monday was wash day and red-beans-and-rice day.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate all your links to lovely versions of "This Little Light of Mine", especially the rap-ish version from 2010.

Highly recommend the book and the movie "Black Klansman". You probably know that the author, Ron Stallworth, is from and now lives in El Paso. It is a very funny, very serious, true story.

- judy

Mzuri said...

Hey! Good to hear from you, as always! I haven't read the book but I did see the movie, which I agree is one to recommend. Having said that: Did you read the movie's review by Boots Riley, which he posted on Twitter?