Clergy, laity lift high the cross as protests continue for sixth day in downtown Detroit

Fr. John McKenzie, associate pastor of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, holds a crucifix as priests, deacons, seminarians and Catholic laymen and women walk June 3 in downtown Detroit, praying for peace and end to racism as protests continued in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Catholics plan to gather in prayer during each day of protest in effort to ‘Unleash the Gospel’ while calling for peace and an end to racism

DETROIT  Amid signs of protest, calls for an end to police brutality and justice for George Floyd stood the most radical symbol of faith, sacrifice and suffering: Jesus Christ on the cross. 

Deacons, priests and seminarians from the Archdiocese of Detroit took turns holding the heavy wooden cross, elevated above the crowd, while simultaneously praying silently for peace and for an end to racism Wednesday, June 3, in downtown Detroit. 

The group, organized by Msgr. Daniel Trapp, associate professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and pastor of St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish on Detroit’s east side, and Fr. Mario Amore, pastor at St. Aloysius Parish downtown, first congregated at St. Aloysius, walking to the corner of Third and Washington to stand in solidarity with the protesters, then trailed behind the crowd as they continued to march, praying the rosary as they walked.  

Msgr. Daniel Trapp, pastor of St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish on Detroit’s east side, helped to organize a group that will congregate at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Detroit each day before heading to peacefully join the protesters calling for justice for George Floyd. 

The next morning, another group, led by Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon and seminary rector Msgr. Todd Lajiness, prayed the rosary outside of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, next to its iconic “black Jesus” statue, which has stood as a testament to race relations in Detroit since the civil rights movement.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron also plans to lead a 1:30 p.m. rosary on Sunday, June 7, at Ste. Anne Parish in southwest Detroit.

Msgr. Trapp and Fr. Amore agreed that a Catholic presence was needed as protests have continued across the nation and city for nearly a week. 

“As Catholics, we do believe that every person is made in God’s image and likeness, so when one suffers or one is discriminated against, we need to stand up for them just as we do for the unborn,” Fr. Amore said. “In my mind, we had to have a presence (at the protests.)”

Protesters have gathered in Detroit and other cities for six days to call for better treatment of African-Americans and minorities, a cause local Catholics say strikes at the heart of Catholic social teaching.

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Msgr. Trapp said he plans to attend the protests in Detroit as long as they continue, and that anyone is welcome to join the group, which will continue to congregate at St. Aloysius each day at 4 p.m. 

Deacon Andrew Mabee, who will be ordained a priest next week, said it was an honor to hold the cross and to be a visible statement of Jesus’s presence in the world. 

As Detroit Catholic followed the group while they walked, the cross served as an almost magnetic force, continuously turning heads, drawing people closer and leading bystanders to ask the clergy questions and engage in conversation. 

At one point, Deacon Mabee was approached by a New York Times photographer, who not only photographed him and seminarian Michael Bruno, who was then holding the cross, but also engaged in conversation about the impact Catholics were having on the issues of the day. 

Children and adults gather to pray the rosary near Sacred Heart Major Seminary’s “black Jesus” grotto on June 3. The iconic statue has represented Detroit's diversity and faith since the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“One of the graces of being ordained is that you are a visible presence of Jesus in the world, and the collar makes that a little more public and obvious,” Deacon Mabee said. “Having the presence of Christ, the presence of Jesus incarnate here is most especially important, to hopefully open up conversations and offer to pray for people and share the Gospel with people.”

Fr. John McKenzie, associate pastor of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak and a Detroit native, brought his two young nephews to the protest, and was grateful to have an opportunity to partake in peaceful prayer and walk alongside them. 

Seminarian Michael Bruno holds a crucifix as Catholics march through the streets of Detroit on June 2 

Fr. McKenzie, who is African-American, said the show of faith was an opportunity to speak out on behalf of Christ and to have a positive impact on the discussion of race relations in America today.

“I want to show (my nephews) that as young black men, they don’t have to be afraid of the police, and there is a way to act to seek peace in America as good citizens by protesting,” Fr. McKenzie said. “And also not to be afraid of who they are as black men.”

Fr. John McKenzie’s 8-year-old nephew stands with his hands clasped in prayer. Fr. McKenzie said he wants to show his young nephews to not be afraid of who they are as black men, and emphasized the importance of sharing Jesus’s love, particularly in the black Catholic community. 

Fr. McKenzie said it’s important to share the witness and testimony of the love of Jesus for young black men, particularly in the black Catholic community. 

“We have to witness to the truth to everyone,” Fr. McKenzie said. “We, as Catholics, have a mandate about being pro-life, which is from natural birth to natural death and everything in between. W need to be witnesses of the truth and go against injustices, and we see that clearly in these recent killings of innocent black men and women.”

Panel discussion on racism

On Saturday, June 6, the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries will sponsor a panel discussion on the topic “Inherent Dignity: Catholic Teaching and Response to the Sin of Racism.”

The 1 p.m. panel discussion, which will be conducted via webinar, will be moderated by Fr. Theodore Parker, pastor of St. Charles Lwanga Parish in Detroit, and include Bishop Hanchon; John Thorne, executive director of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance; and Vickie Figueroa, manager of the Office of Black Catholic and Cultural Ministries for the archdiocese.