By Debbie Shelley
The Catholic Commentator
The fervent faith of several hundred Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary members fused into a beacon of hope and courage at the 74th annual Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary State Conference April 20-22 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge.
Presenting Bishop Robert W. Muench, center, with a plaque of appreciation and wishes for a happy retirement are, from left, Knights of Peter Claver District II President Anthony Daisy and Deacon Alfred Adams, director of the Office of Black Catholics of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator
In addition to state officers and members, there were national officers and members of the Junior Knights and Daughters of Peter Claver in attendance.
The conference, themed “Let the Light of Peter Claver Shine Through All of Us,” included meetings, voting and prayer services and a Mass on April 21. Southeast Central Committee District II hosted the event.
In his homily, Bishop Robert W. Muench, who concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and priests from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, noted that since its founding in 1909 The Knights of Peter Claver have had an illustrious history of leadership, particularly in the areas of spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
With the Mass being celebrated on Good Shepherd Sunday weekend, the Bishop Muench noted that Jesus is the good shepherd to be emulated. Reading from Psalm 23, he noted how Jesus is portrayed as keeper, patron, provider, protector, guardian, nurturer, caregiver, advocate, guide and friend.
The bishop said there are exceptional African American bishops who have been born in or served in Louisiana or both. He said they have served with special unflinching courage and have “been nothing short of phenomenal.”
He cited deceased Bishop Harold R. Perry, the first African-American bishop of the 20th century who served as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans; Bishop Moses B. Anderson SVD, who was enrolled at Xavier University in New Orleans, where some of his artwork still resides, and later became auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit; and Bishop Joseph Francis SVD who was born in Lafayette and later became auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark.
The bishop also recognized retired Bishop Dominic Carmon, who served as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans; retired Bishop John H. Ricard SSJ who was born in Baton Rouge and was bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida; and retired Bishop Terry Steib SVD, born in Vacherie, who served as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and bishop of the Diocese of Memphis.
The bishop also commended current Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, from New Roads, who served as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans before being named the bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux; Bishop Edward Braxton, who served as bishop of the Diocese of Lake Charles and now serves as bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois;</span id=”9″> and Bishop Ferdinand J. Cheri, who serves as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans; and Bishop Curtis John Guillory, SVD, who was born in Mallet and serves as the bishop of Beaumont, Texas.
Bishop Muench also talked about bishops who took courageous stands against racism. He pointed to Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard, who served as the bishop of Lafayette, who at a time when the Klu Klux Klan was trying to assert their presence welcomed the first African-American priests to the diocese. With help from St. Catherine Drexel, he helped a number of rural parochial schools for African Americans.
Bishop Muench also noted that he was 13 years old when he heard the prophetic words of New Orleans Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel from a pastoral letter he issued in 1956, “The Morality of Racial Segregation:” “Racial segregation as such is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity and solidarity of the human race as conceived by God in the creation of Adam and Eve.”
The bishop continued that Bishop Robert E. Tracy of Baton Rouge urged the Second Vatican Council to take a tough stand against racism. The contributions of African-American religious and lay faithful were also lauded by the bishop.
He noted that over periods of time The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary members have patiently helped usher society’s incremental progress from society’s sin of slavery to segregation to desegregation to integration that has been “far too slow and inadequate.”
“The pace to eliminate and eradicate racial prejudice and bias must be accelerated with the ultimate goal of full societal justice and charity,” said Bishop Muench.
He thanked the diocesan Racial Harmony Commission that he established after the shooting of Alton Sterling and subsequent shootings and killing of police for their work. He then prayed the Racial Harmony Prayer for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
At the end of the Mass, District II officials presented Bishop Muench with a plaque of thanks wishing him a happy retirement.
At a banquet following the Mass, Bishop Fabre, national chaplain for The Knights of Peter Claver, shared some practical ways people can “Let the light of Peter Claver through all of us.”
Bishop Fabre noted “as St. Peter Claver would meet the ships he would take translators to assist him in his initial contact with the different languages spoken. There was a common language that was spoken by those held captive; a language that St. Peter Claver understood and did not need anyone to translate for him to understand. This language was the language of human suffering – the universal language of human suffering.”
He said ways people can respond to the language of human suffering include: respecting all human life and the human dignity of each and every person, born or unborn, citizen or immigrant, regardless of a person’s race, creed, social status or sexual orientation; meeting the physical needs of people; evangelizing and catechizing in the faith of the Catholic Church; and seek to deal with that which is the origin and source of much of the language of human suffering, and these are self-centeredness and selfishness.
“In the end, the great task for us today who want St. Peter Claver ‘to shine through us’ is to listen with our hearts and not only with our ears. In a world and a nation where so much of our discourse and actions today root themselves in anger, hatred and frustration, we must be, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us, open to truly encountering other people on a level deeper than just that which is superficial” said Bishop Fabre, who was presented with a plaque of appreciation.