Modern Catholic Pilgrim (MCP), an organization founded in 2017 to bring pilgrimage to a new generation, has announced an initiative bringing its racial justice pilgrimages under a single banner—and the patronage of Servant of God Thea Bowman.
The new grouping, largely featuring the history of African-American Catholics, is entitled “Walking Together”, a motif drawn from the words of Bowman during her historic address to the US bishops in 1989.
MCP announced the news during Black History Month on February 23rd.
“[Bowman's] prophetic, challenging words… shape our work at Modern Catholic Pilgrim in planning and hosting pilgrimages for racial justice and reconciliation,” the organization said in their statement.
“Our goal is threefold: to bring Sister Thea's call for a "truly Catholic" solidarity to the forefront of each of the project’s pilgrimages, to build community among pilgrims across the various pilgrimages that occur around the country, and to teach pilgrims about this great saint for our age while we seek her intercession each time we walk together as the beautiful, multi-cultural Church that Sister Thea knew us to be.”
MCP has said that the new initiative will be in collaboration with Bowman’s cause for canonization, which was opened in 2018 by the Diocese of Jackson in her home state of Mississippi.
A Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, Bowman is known for her racial justice work, her advocacy for Black inculturation in the Catholic Church, and her many years as an educator and public speaker.
“If we walk and talk and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name, we’ll be who we say we are: truly Catholic,” she told the US bishops at a general assembly just 9 months before her death from cancer.
Her grave, located in Memphis next to her parents, will feature in one of MCP's upcoming pilgrimages under the new program, scheduled for November 5th during Black Catholic History Month. The trek will also involve a stop at the St Martin de Porres National Shrine and Institute, located just two and a half miles from Bowman’s resting place.
September will feature a pilgrimage to Louisville, in partnership with the archdiocese’s multicultural ministry and with the support of a grant from the National Black Catholic Congress. It will be the third such MCP event in the city, most recently occurring last fall under the nascent “Walking Together” theme.
Adding to the historical significance is that the Louisville see will soon receive as its new archbishop one Shelton Fabre, who is set to become just the fourth Black archbishop in US history.
In May of this year, students from St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota will make a “Walking Together” pilgrimage to the Twin Cities. MCP also hosted an event there last February, featuring the history of local Black parishes and their displacement during the destruction of the Black “Near North” neighborhood by the government during the era of Urban Renewal.
MCP is also providing support and resources for other groups looking to host similar pilgrimages, and has put out a call for those interested.
They can contact the organization’s president Will F. Peterson at email@example.com for more information, and the same email should be used to register for one of the upcoming events.
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).