Juneteenth: a testament to the human spirit

Shirley Schneider
St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville hosted a Juneteeth prayer service earlier this month at the church.

For The Catholic Messenger

CORALVILLE — Catholics lifted their voices in song and prayer during St. Thomas More Parish’s annual Juneteenth prayer service earlier this month. “We gather on this special occasion to commemorate and reflect upon the profound significance of Juneteenth — a day that stands as a beacon of hope, resilience and freedom in the annals of American history,” speaker Thomas Mason IV, a Black Catholic, told the gathering.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and recognizes the two-and-a-half-year gap between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the freeing of slaves in the westernmost confederate state. “Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas,” according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s website. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed people in Texas.


The Coralville parish began hosting an annual prayer service in 2021, the year Juneteenth became a federal holiday. “As we come together to honor this historic milestone, we are called to pay tribute to the generations of enslaved individuals whose spirit and unwavering courage paved the way for the liberation of millions,” said Mason, president and chairperson of the St. Martin de Porres Society based at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. “Their enduring resilience in the face of unimaginable hardships serves as a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to overcome adversity and injustice.”


Father Charles Adam, the parish’s pastor, began this year’s service by offering prayers to guide all in “healing our land from racial injustice.” Mason highlighted the lives of Black Americans nominated for sainthood: Sister Thea Bowman, Pierre Toussaint, Henriette Delille, Augustus Tolton, Julia Greeley, Mary Lange and St. Martin de Porres.

“Through all of the adversity that they endured, (they) persevered because of their great love for God with all their heart, soul and mind. All of these remarkable individuals’ lives bear witness to the truth that, when we freely, willingly and lovingly place all our trust in God, then we will find true happiness and peace,” Mason said. It is important for all Catholics to acknowledge and reaffirm the Church’s opposition to all forms of discrimination, acts of hate, prejudice, racial injustice and ethnic oppression. “We must believe racism in all forms is a sin as well as an affront to the Judeo-Christian values and teachings of the Catholic Church.”

To reflect on Juneteenth also means acknowledging that the journey towards equality and justice is ongoing, Mason said. “The legacy of slavery continues to reverberate through our society, manifesting in systemic racism, inequality and social injustices that persist to this day. It is incumbent upon all of us to confront this legacy, to dismantle the structures of oppression, and to create a more just and equitable society for all.”

A Scripture reading from 1Corinthians 12:12-20 captured the prayer service’s overall message of diversity and acceptance, organizers said. “The parts are many but the body is one.” Participants from St. Thomas More and the St. Martin de Porres Society read petitions and prayed “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Parishioners Priscilla Marlar and Leslie Hyland led participants in singing songs of hope and resilience: “We Shall Overcome,” “Rise Up” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

After the prayer service, participants enjoyed ice cream and viewed St. Martin de Porres Society’s display of Black American statues and books addressing racism. Members of the society and leaders from St. Thomas More also met before the prayer service for fellowship and dinner. The two groups plan to collaborate on future endeavors, organizers said.

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