Knights of Peter Claver: A voice for justice
“That our prayer will move us to justice and peace in a world so troubled with violence and terrorism, that we may seek your peace.”
This general intercession at the opening Mass July 24 of the annual Knights of Peter Claver national convention in New Orleans outlined the convention’s message: Go before the Lord in prayer with sincere and open hearts and he will lovingly hear the needs of his daughters and sons and respond with mercy and love.
National force in U.S. church
The standing-room-only crowd of African-American Catholics stood as hope to a troubled world and spoke of how the organization, founded in Mobile in 1909, provides important resources for the health, education and welfare of all mankind, especially the marginalized.
“As we look at all the events going on today, we have to step up that clarion call to be the salt of the earth and beacons of light,” said Supreme Knight F. DeKarlos Blackmon.
He spoke of the importance of starting the convention in prayer at Mass since the Eucharist is central to the Catholic faith and how the Gospel readings were eye-opening in showing how Jesus teaches today’s Catholics, like the apostles, to pray.
“Jesus is giving us priorities,” Blackmon said. “Not just our will but God’s will be done in our lives. … We all want to be delivered from the evil one to help each other get there to see the Lord at the end of our lives.”
Importance of brotherhood, prayer
Houma-Thibodaux Bishop Shelton Fabre, the national chaplain of the Knights of Peter Claver, emphasized in his welcome address that as the group encountered the real presence of the Lord at Mass, that like their namesake St. Peter Claver, they may be strengthened to “go forth and serve those who are marginalized and forgotten.”
“This convention is a time of sharing faith and recommitting ourselves to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthening friendships and rededicating ourselves to the goals of our noble order,” he said.
The message of prayer was continued with Archbishop Gregory Aymond, the main Mass celebrant, in the homily. He reflected how Abraham, in the first reading from Genesis, pleaded with the Lord – speaking honestly from his heart – to save the city of Sodom and Gomorrah from their sins even if there were only 10 innocent people there. And, he mentioned how in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives the apostles the powerful, reverent Our Father when they asked him how to pray.
To establish an intimate relationship with Jesus, Archbishop Aymond said we must put aside distractions like our iPhones, iPads and anything “I.”
“Abraham, in his conversation with God, speaks honestly from his heart,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He says what he is believing and trusts God. When we talk to God, what do our conversations with God sound like?”
We too, like the apostles have been given the right to call on God using the intimate name “Abba, Father” in the Our Father, he said. God listens to us and responds lovingly, not always in our time or in the way we want, but knowing our needs better than we do, for he loves us and is always there with us.
“We don’t need to bargain like Abraham did,” the archbishop said, but just pray in God’s presence. “Not to change God’s mind, but to change our heart and minds to know the mind of God, so we can truly say, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ Not my will, but yours. Our prayer in sincerity and love will change our hearts to know the mind of God, and that is God’s blessing to us.”
He said St. Peter Claver also teaches how to pray. He relinquished his family’s wealth and became a Jesuit because he listened to God in prayer and worked for 33 years to feed and heal those enslaved in Cartagena (now Colombia), which was the site of major slave trade in the New World, and taught them how to pray.
“What moved him? Prayer,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Knowing the will of God for justice and peace. … He (Peter Claver) saw Christ in (the slaves). He saw their dignity as a child, a son or daughter. His prayer didn’t change God’s mind; it changed his heart so he could accept the mind and heart of Jesus. His relationship with Jesus made his heart bigger. He saw his needs and the needs of others. His prayer had to become reality.
“As knights and ladies of Peter Claver, you are sent to pray for others, you are sent to pray with others, and you are sent as knights and ladies to teach others how to pray.”
Near the close of Mass, Blackmon gave a special acknowledgment to retired New Orleans Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Carmon for his pastoral care in his episcopal ministry to the church.
In a post-Mass interview for the Eternal Word Television Network where the Mass was broadcast live, Blackmon spoke of the Knights of Peter Claver’s heritage in the African-American experience in America. It initially filled the void when African-American men were excluded from other church organizations, but now stands together with the church since “Christ said we should be one.”
Bishop Fabre also mentioned the rich diversity within the church that allows prayerful dialogue and discussion to overcome challenges such as the recent shootings in America.
Blackmon said the Knights of Peter Claver are called “to herald the truth, so for us, all lives matter. In every way, we are called to take care of one another. Everyone is our neighbor, and we can never lose sight of that.”
To address the current national tensions, Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, was to give a discussion on race, and the convention’s public issues forum was open to discussion on the topic if it was brought up.
Dr. C. Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, addressed the Knights that evening, asking how they could “continue to serve as exemplars of faith, of service, of values – a counter-cultural light to society.” They are “a presence of God here and now with us” that heeds the Christian respect for all human life as America struggles with racial tensions and needless violence.
He said the Knights’ formation and character-building program for junior knights and ladies was important since the young are the “emerging leaders and your gift to tomorrow, your gift to the church. They are hope for the future.”
“As Catholic Christians, we must discern, and then respond to our call to serve,” Verret said. “We are called to heal, to remind our fellow citizens, Catholic and not Catholic, Christians and otherwise, that there is an alternative to our baser instinct. We are called to speak truth, to shine in dark places, to encourage voting among young and old, and promote a just and hope-filled society.”