Revival Mass examines racism in the world
“Black love matters.” That lesson came from Father Donald Watkins Jr., who reminded those that attended a Revival Mass, that Black lives still struggle.
The Revival, which took place at St. Martin de Porres Parish on Sept. 17, carried the theme of “God is Reviving Our Spirit” and was meant to reawaken the faith of those who attend.
Father Watkins, administrator of Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Falconer and St. Patrick Parish in Randolph, first visited St. Martin de Porres Parish was in 2012, the year Trayvon Martin, as Father Watkins expressed it, “got put on trial for his own murder.”
The 17-year-old African American by was killed by George Zimmerman as the boy was walking home through Zimmerman’s Florida neighborhood. The highly-publicized trial found that Zimmerman acted in self-defense.
“There is insensitivity around the country, around the world for the plight of the Black man and Black woman too. All of the traumatization and stigmatization and terrorization that we had to go through all throughout our lives,” Father Watkins said, adding the way to push through it hate is with “Black love.”
The date of the revival coincided with several historic occasions. On Sept. 17, 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery through the Underground Railroad..
It was Sept. 17, 1789, when the U.S. Constitution was signed. It acknowledged non-free persons or Black slaves as 3/5 of a person. “That should be expunged,” Father Watkins said.
“Maybe that’s why a maniac can sit in his basement with a pen and a couple hundred pages of paper and write out a manifesto. And then get into his car and commute 200 miles from Binghamton to right over here to Jefferson and Riley and commit mass murder,” he continued. “The Black community within the central city of Buffalo endures and continues to endure. And the reason that we have been able to pull through this is because of Black love, because Black love matters. It sustained us until now and will continue to sustain us in the future.”
Father Watkins suggested to focus on what is needed to do to go forward.
“One of the things that we need to do, as a people, is study Black Liberation Theology (a system of thought that attempts to apply the Christian worldview to aid the poor, especially those of African-American descent, and liberate them from social, political, economic, or religious hardships). We need to be able to speak in academic terms intelligently, this is what needs to be freed. This is going to set the terms about where we’re going to live, how we’re going to live, what kind of education we’re going to have, how things are going to be distributed and taken care of.”
Father Watkins went on to talk about racism that has taken place in our own diocese.
He met Father William Warthling, who taught at Niagara County Community College while suspended from the priesthood. His story is told in the book “Seven Who Fought,” about seven religious leaders and their attempts to improve race relations in the 1960s.
“A wonderful man. He was committed to the Central City of Buffalo. He wanted to come down here and he wanted to be a priest here. And he wanted to work on the salvation of Black souls here in the Central City,” Father Watkins said, adding he was suspended by Bishop James A. McNulty and reinstated by Bishop Edward D. Head.
Other initiatives were started to allow the Black community to grow and strengthen, but not sustained.
Bishop Michael W. Fisher, the main celebrant for the revival Mass, addressed the adversity, sorrow and injustice faced this past year by the world, the diocese, and specifically by the parish, located near the Jefferson Avenue Tops Market that saw 10 people killed in a racist attack.
“But all along the Lord has been with us. I think the theme that you have chosen for this wonderful revival – ‘God is Reviving Our Spirit’ – is certainly apropos for us as we begin a new year; a new year where we embrace that Holy Spirit that is alive in our communities, in our Church and in our hearts,” he said.
Bishop Fisher, who has visited several Catholic schools already, mentioned the classic three R’s of reading, ‘riting and ’rithmetic in his homily.
“As we embrace this new year embracing that spirit of revival, I think of three other R’s. The first is that R of renewal, which our diocese has been undergoing. There are so many things being said about what the renewal is. But, first and foremost, the renewal is about a renewal of our spirit – that hope that God brings to each one of us through our faith, our love for one another. So, the renewal needs to be a spiritual renewal above all things.”
He continued to say the readings gave a sign hope for the renewal of the mission as well as to our lives and humanity.
“We need to get back to the basics don’t we? The basics of what it means to be family, to be a child of God, to cherish, to care for one another. So, revival in the spirit is, first of all, looking at ourselves. It’s about evangelization.
“When you see hope you can’t help but Rejoice.”
The Revival was sponsored by the diocesan African American Commission and Office of Pastoral Ministries.