Catholics cross 'Delmar Divide' to symbolize racial unity
About 250 St. Louis area Catholics and other residents symbolically walked across Delmar Boulevard, the street signifying the city’s racial and economic divides, as part of what they called a “pilgrimage” Saturday.
The route for the "Crossing the Delmar Divide" event took participants past Delmar twice to bring awareness to the city’s racial issues and indicate “we are all one — we’re united and we can go either way on Delmar,” said organizer Joyce Jones, a member of the St. Louis Archdiocese’s North City Deanery Interracial Relations Committee.
“In St. Louis, people of means do not go north of Delmar,” Jones said. “How many people realize that children that have classmates in some of the county schools, their parents won’t let them do sleepovers, if their classmate lives north of Delmar? So if nothing else, if people say, ‘What is this Delmar divide?’ it will bring attention to the issues we have in St. Louis.”
The pilgrimage started at 9:30 a.m. after a prayer for unity at the clock tower on Saint Louis University’s campus. That tower became a meeting spot for protests over a lack of opportunities for black students following the unrest in Ferguson.
But Jones said she wants to emphasize the event was not a protest, but a religious journey including several stops for prayer along the route. Participants prayed not only for St. Louis' divides to heal, but also for the less fortunate as well as those affected by tragedies in Orlando, Baton Rouge and Dallas.
Jones said she also hoped the event would demonstrate a message to the broader St. Louis community. Indeed, a few people driving by or standing in nearby storefronts inquired about the purpose of the walk.
“We want to walk, be meditative, we want to pray,” she said. “It’s not a march. It’s a pilgrimage and we will be in prayer the entire time. This pilgrimage will bring an awareness that people are here to make a statement that we can be united as human beings, united as Christians.”
Jones said she hopes the event gave some people a chance to “tell our truths” and for others, an opportunity to learn.
“We have to be able to not sit in a room and keep your mouth closed when you see someone say something that is inappropriate,” she said. “There’s a discussion about, ‘Well, they should know by now’ – they being the white people or they being the black people. Well, I don’t know what I don’t know unless you tell me, so just having a conversation, just being able to start somewhere.”
The pilgrims’ walk might not immediately fix the racial divides in St. Louis, Jones said, but it can plant the seeds for future change. Her colleague agreed.
“That’s a presence — that’s a presence in the streets and walking as black and white and Hispanic and all different and together,” said Marie Kenyon, director of the Archdiocese’ Peace and Justice Commission, which is co-organizing the event with the committee. “We’re all the same in God’s eyes.”
After an hour and a half of walking, the participants arrived at the Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End. Since the event was part of the Catholic Church's Year of Mercy Jubilee, the self-described pilgrims had the chance to pass through the Cathedral's Holy Doors, which the Church says signifies the experience of God's mercy, love and compassion. As they entered, the participants sang "Amazing Grace."
The event is part of the Archdiocese’s broader efforts to continue its work to address racial injustices in the aftermath of the unrest that underscored the region’s divisions over race, class and social justice issues. Both the Commission and the Interracial Relations Committee were formed post-Ferguson.
But Jones said the event isn’t just about making a statement about discrimination and segregation within the region, but also within the Catholic community itself.
“There have been a lot of racial injustices among the members of the Catholic Church, and I hope that some of the hurt, some of the pain that people have experienced because of racial injustice within their church, that that healing will come,” she said. “I hope that those who have been the perpetrators will understand more that we are all children of God, we are all people of God, and that we all belong at the table.”
She added: “I hope that this pilgrimage will just allow us to heal. I don’t want us to be bitter. I don’t want us to be hurt. I don’t want us to be upset. I want just to be able to love.”
Jones said as conversations begin and people connect, change will happen.