As the world celebrates the feasts of two African saints—St Monica today, and St Augustine tomorrow—the latter date will also feature the commemoration of domestic Black Catholic history: namely, the founding of Los Angeles.
Tomorrow evening at 5pm CT, Archbishop José Gómez will celebrate a “Many Peoples, One Mother” votive Mass and lead a Rosary procession in the heart of the city, beginning near where dozens of Black Catholics helped found the city under Spanish rule—and Marian protection—240 years ago.
The annual event is being billed as the 9th in its history, having been inaugurated in 2011 by the Queen of Angels Foundation (founded that same tear) following a secular “Walk to Los Angeles” created three decades earlier to commemorate the same event.
The latter celebration, usually held on the 29th of August by the city of San Gabriel—where the city’s original settlers, “Los Pobladores”, began their founding journey—was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After being canceled last year alongside a larger Marian consecration event meant to coincide, the Mass and procession fall each year on the Saturday nearest to September 4th, the founding date of the city.
(It is also often one of several optional Saturday memorials for the Blessed Virgin during Ordinary Time, but this year is an exception due to St Augustine’s feast day.)
In a move meant to connect the legacy of the city to its diverse founding, this year’s event will be co-sponsored by the archdiocese’s Office of Ethnic Ministry.
The area surrounding the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where the event will be held, is known as the El Pueblo de Los Ángeles district, where Spaniards of varying ethnicities established in 1781 what is now the nation’s second-most populous city.
It also contains the historic district church, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (styled after the original name for the city), and the former home of Pío Pico—a legendary Black Catholic, the last Mexican governor of Alta California, and a perennial Southern California namesake.
The Calle de los Negros, now known as Los Angeles Street, runs through the district and was also once a presumed hotspot for Black Catholics, later becoming a home for the city’s growing Chinese-American population (now centered in Chinatown a few blocks away).
Tomorrow’s event will celebrate exactly this sort of history: the Catholic heritage of Los Angeles, sometimes forgotten in the hustle and bustle of Hollywood and the ever-changing landscape of one of America’s most sprawled metropolises.
As such, the faithful from around the region will descend upon a common starting point to celebrate Christ and inspire Marian devotion, on a day honoring one of Africa's most prestigious figures.
An entrance procession at 4:30pm CT will precede tomorrow’s Mass, and a livestream will be available on the archdiocese’s website and on their Facebook page.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).