By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
In reflecting on the 300th anniversary of the City of New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond has made it a point of emphasis to stress the interconnectedness of the city’s civic and religious histories.
That shared history came into clearer focus April 17 at the Tricentennial Interfaith Prayer Service at St. Louis Cathedral, where dozens of religious leaders of many different faiths joined New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and spoke of a common bond of love and respect that needs to be strengthened if the city is to overcome its shortcomings.
“In acknowledging our diversity and the differences that exist, we also come together to celebrate our unity,” Archbishop Aymond said in his main reflection. “There can be unity in diversity.”
Pointing toward the Mississippi River from the sanctuary, Archbishop Aymond said when New Orleans was established in 1718, the founding fathers knew there had to be a church within yards of the river’s banks.
“For 300 years, a church has existed – and many other churches, synagogues and places of worship,” Archbishop Aymond said. “From the very beginning of the city, a religious representative was there. In the past 300 years, you and I have built on that spirit of faith as faith leaders and as the people of God.”
A welcoming people
The archbishop noted that New Orleans has always been a cosmopolitan city, welcoming immigrants who enriched the city’s culture. He also emphasized the work of various religious denominations in providing social services “in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness” – a phrase Massgoers recite each Sunday in “Our Family Prayer.” He specifically mentioned the heavy lifting done by religious groups to rebuild the region after Hurricane Katrina.
There have been times, however, where New Orleanians “have not always been true to living out the values that we sometimes profess,” referring to the sin of “the slavery of old and the segregation that was part of our history.”
“As a city and as the people of God, we come together to ask for God’s mercy for the injustices that have existed in our community and in our city in the past and in the present,” the archbishop said. “We ask for God’s forgiveness for the racism that continues to raise its ugly head in this great city. We ask for God’s forgiveness for the violence and murder that sometimes continue and for the lack of respect for human life.”
Overcoming violence, murder and racism will take individual and collective efforts, the archbishop said, and God will need to guide those efforts.
“We ask for God to lead us in new ways that we may be a voice for those whose voices are not heard,” Archbishop Aymond said. “We want to march forward from the synagogues and mosques and churches and temples saying that we seek God’s goodness, that we love what is right and that we want to love tenderly like our God.
“We commit ourselves to continuing to care for the homeless living on our streets and dying on our streets. We are a voice calling others to put down guns and to learn reconciliation.”
Landrieu said it would have been “impossible” to celebrate the city’s Tricentennial without also “celebrating our faith community.”
“There is nothing that has really happened in the last 300 years without the faith community being a part of everything that we are,” Landrieu said.
The mayor recounted some of the natural disasters that have come New Orleans’ way in recent years, including Katrina and other tropical storms and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The locusts are coming soon, Archbishop,” Landrieu said, laughing.
“Every one of us, in a very wonderful way, reached out to each other in our darkest hour,” he said. “The light of love always shines the brightest. You can all remember those dark days when Katrina hit, when the world was still, when all the green was brown, when the water was high and deep and it had sucked almost all the life out of us. How beautiful it was to see the angels among us who reached out and lifted each other up.”
The prayer service concluded as the faith leaders processed out to “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.