Father Joseph Jakub, parochial vicar of St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, leads a prayer service to Promote Racial Unity Sept. 9 on the parish grounds. Staff photo
Father Joseph Jakub, parochial vicar of St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, leads a prayer service to Promote Racial Unity Sept. 9 on the parish grounds. Staff photo

The flickering of flashlights, cell phones and glowsticks illuminated their path as parishioners traveled the grounds of St. Catharine of Genoa Church, Holmdel, the evening of Sept. 9. They had gathered to raise their voices in song, reflect on God’s Word and offer their prayers for the intentions of what “all of society needs to remember, and that is the dignity of all people,” said Father Patrick McPartland, pastor.

While the Gospels shed much light on current events such as the recent protests for racial justice taking place throughout the country, people, however, often fail to hear the messages, Father McPartland said. It was for this reason that the parish held an outdoor Prayer Service to Promote Racial Unity where all would gather in a spirit of prayer and calm and “remind ourselves of the call to love one another,” he said.

“I hope the parish learned that we can have respectful, reasonable, prayerful conversation on sensitive topics that are informed by Church teachings” and this can really add dimension on what it means to have peace and love of neighbor, Father McPartland said. The inaugural event was coordinated by Father Joseph Jakub, parochial vicar, and Kathy Dalton, parish music director.

The prayer service began in an outdoor area near the church where Father Jakub, presider, led the opening prayer. During the procession that followed, the congregation made stops at several points where there were crosses with images of saints who had encountered racial injustice. At each point, Scripture passages from the First Letter of St. John and from St. Matthew’s Gospel were proclaimed and the choir of singers and musicians, including Father McPartland, who played his guitar, led the singing of related hymns such as “Prayer of St. Francis;” “We Are Many Parts,” and the chanting of the Litany of Saints, during which the names of saints, who experienced racial or ethnic injustice, were specifically remembered -- St. Josephine Bakhita, St. John Paul II, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Pierre Toussaint, St. Edith Stein, St. Martin de Porres, St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Peter Claver and Venerable Augustus Tolton.

Parishioners then read poignant quotes about unity and peace, including St. Teresa of Kolkata: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Racism is the denial of the truth of the dignity of each person revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.”

St. Josephine Bakhita: “The Lord has loved me so much, we must love everyone. We must be compassionate.”

Pope Francis: “The problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms; whenever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the well-being of society as a whole is endangered and each of us must feel affected.”

St. John Paul II: “With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we try in every age to bring the Gospel convincingly and understandably to people of all races, languages and cultures.”

Father Jakub, in his homily, reflected on the experiences of tragedy and triumph that seem to be “the story of our country, the story of the world and, at the end of it all, the story of salvation.”

The tragedies Father Jakub spoke of were those persons who have been discriminated against and enslaved because of the color of their skin, and how segregation continued even after slavery was abolished.

“We have experienced tragedy because still today, so many are at such a disadvantage, from the moment they are conceived, simply because of the zip code they were born into, and so often that population has the same color of skin,” he said. “We have experienced tragedy because our cities have been burned and looted to the detriment of all. We have experienced tragedy because of the unnecessary taking of human life, even at times from those in positions of power.”

The triumphs, Father Jakub noted, occurred when slavery was abolished; when people have peacefully demanded changes be made in society when it came to addressing racial injustice, and when people of faith have prayed for racial unity and an end to violence.

“We must look at our past and present and see the tragedy we have endured in our country, we must look at our past and present with gratitude at the triumphs that overcame those tragedies, we must look at our past and present to see how love has conquered hatred and violence,” he said, “and we must be those agents of love that conquer hatred and violence in our community, in our country and in the world.”

Reflecting on the service, parishioner Diana Powderly spoke of how there is a “great need for prayer in so many different ways,” one of which needs to bring racial divide to an end.

“We need to pray for racial equality,” she said.

Carol McIlvain spoke of feeling disheartened about the racial tragedies and was glad for the opportunity to pray with fellow parishioners.

“This is the best place to be,” she said of being in her parish. “I’m glad that I do not feel alone. I’m with people who ‘get it.’”

While nine-year-old Robbie Krol had been aware of the ongoing racial injustices that have been making national news in recent weeks, he admitted he learned much more from participating in the prayer service including an introduction to St. Peter Claver and why it’s important to pray for peace and racial equality. Most importantly, when Robbie was asked why racial injustice is wrong, he said, “Because everyone comes from God, so therefore, we are all equal.”