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  • Writer's pictureWill F. Peterson

Lament and Compassion: Making Pilgrimage for Racial Justice

This last weekend, we at MCP officially kicked off our collaboration with the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis on a series of pilgrimages centered around themes of justice. On Saturday, a small group of pilgrims walked a mile from Gichitwaa Kateri Catholic Church to the George Floyd Memorial Site. I was blessed to take part with representatives from the Basilica.

(click here for the Racial Justice Pilgrimage Guide)

If you participated in or followed our 300 Pilgrimages for Mary in May, you know that distance is not what matters ultimately in making a pilgrimage. It is the pilgrim mindset that matters, carrying intentions to the persons of the Trinity, Mary, and the saints to offer to them at a particular site before returning home changed. Thus, the mile provided ample time to pray.

We started with this call for help from Psalm 102:

Lord, hear my prayer;

let my cry come to you.

Do not hide your face from me

now that I am in distress.

(Ps 102:2-3a)

Fr. Bryan Massingale, a leader in guiding the Church in regard to race relations, writes about the role of prayer in combating racism. He identifies lament as a proper starting point for such prayer. We can share in lamentation, those of us who have perpetuated racism and those who have suffered the consequences. This psalm rang in my ears as I prepared to approach the site where George Floyd had been murdered. We all know that his cries went unheeded by the police officers involved in his death, and we can only trust that the unseen God did not do likewise.

From my loud groaning

I become just skin and bones.

(Ps 102:6)

The words carry across millennia to pierce our hearts with their pertinence. Could another sentence capture his death so precisely, powerfully, and purposefully? I carried Floyd in my heart as we ticked off the cross streets - 32nd, 33rd, 34th.

All day long my enemies taunt me;

in their rage, they make my name a curse.

(Ps 102:9)

I carried a desire for my own conversion, for I have been that enemy of the psalmist. I have taunted others for perceived differences and let my biases control my actions. It has been easy in the past to put the blame on others, to say that others are the ones cursing our hopes of an equitable future.

35th, 36th, 37th. The parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind. How many times have I ignored the cries for help from another human being because I put my wants and comforts before that person’s needs?

There is potential that lamentation might lead to despair of a burden not possible to be carried alone. Pilgrimage as a form of prayer provides a counterbalance to this possibility because a pilgrimage is made to give away what is carried so that the Mystical Body of Christ might be able to provide relief and a response. I was walking this mile to give to God, through the intercession of St. Martin de Porres, St. Peter Claver, St. Katharine Drexel, Mary, and His Son, not a weight to be shouldered with a grimace, but an offering of myself and those people and intentions in my heart carried with determination and resolve beyond my limitations and shared with the Communion of Saints.

Of old you laid the earth’s foundations;

the heavens are the work of your hands.

(Ps 102:26)

38th and Chicago. It was early in the morning on a Saturday, so the corner was somber. A handful of people moved through the space in sacred silence, encountering the site where George Floyd was killed and the memorial that has sprung up around it. His pain radiates out from the spot on the street where he had been refused his right to breath, refused that dignity accorded all of us when God breathes the Spirit into our lungs. I struggled to see how God could be involved in laying down a foundation that allows such pain.

Yet, there is hope. Even the psalmist in dire straits looks forward to a time of justice for God’s people. The outpouring of love at the corner of 38th and Chicago takes back the power from the ones who could openly perpetrate horrific acts, seemingly without remorse. I was able to bring my intentions to God through the intercession of the saints as I pray for George Floyd, for racial justice, and for my own conversion. Our pilgrims prayed the Litany for Racial Justice from John Carroll University before leaving the space. It served to challenge us while also sanctifying the experience. We are the disciples at Emmaus. We have encountered the risen Christ and must return home on fire to change ourselves and our communities.

May the children of your servants live on;

may their descendants live in your


(Ps 102:29)

We have a future toward which we stride, one substantiated by God’s enduring, unchanging presence. Pieces of that future presented themselves on our pilgrimage. Corey spoke of his commitment to using his job with a major retailer to expand the accessibility of baby formula to mothers in middle to lower socioeconomic status areas. His commitment confirms what Fr. Massingale says about prayer in regard to racism. We first experience lament, which moves us to compassion and action.

Pilgrimage can follow such a model as the one Fr. Massingale proposes, especially in making pilgrimage for racial justice. We at MCP are hopeful that a continued development of the pilgrimage culture within the Catholic Church here in the U.S. will provide opportunities for people to combat racism and strive toward communion. To do our part, we have put together the Racial Justice Pilgrimage Guide for those seeking to make pilgrimage in their local communities. We invite all to find a way to take part.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

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