(OSV News) -- A new podcast made available to listeners on Juneteenth promises to investigate the dynamics of race and religion in the United States through the lens of the Black Catholic Church.
"The Ark and the Dove" podcast, released June 19, the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, is for "anyone who wants to engage in conversations about the racial divide and desires deeper reconciliation," Edward Herrera, one of the hosts, told Our Sunday Visitor, a weekly newspaper.
"We think Catholics will be more naturally drawn to the project," he said, "but we have tried to craft it in such a way that Catholics can share it with friends and neighbors to begin a conversation."
The podcast takes its name from two ships that carried English Catholic settlers to Maryland in 1634. One of the passengers, Mathias de Sousa, made history as the first recorded Black Catholic in Maryland and as an elected representative in the Maryland Assembly, according to the podcast description.
The project "seeks to present the faith, resilience and hope of Black Catholics in the U.S."
Along the way, the podcast welcomes numerous scholars, historians and theologians as guests, including retired Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois; Father Josh Johnson, vocations director for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Gloria Purvis, speaker and host of "The Gloria Purvis Podcast"; and Deacon Curtis Turner, head of school at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, a nonresident associate member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Washington.
Listeners can tune in to the trailer and the four episodes that range from 35 to 55 minutes on Apple podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google podcasts and Amazon Music.
Herrera, who works in ministry for the Catholic Church, shared what he hopes listeners take away from the podcast.
"Love your neighbor, especially those neighbors who are different from you," he said. "And the only way that you can truly love your neighbor is to really know your neighbor."
He revealed what inspired him to create the podcast, which he writes, produces and hosts with two others: Louis Damani Jones and Jay Lampart.
"Jay and I have always been interested in better understanding the racial divide in America and the church," he said. "Therefore, as Catholics, we were naturally drawn to the hopeful witness of Black Catholics, even in the face of struggle."
In 2020, they connected with Jones, a behavioral health therapist for a Catholic health care system in the St. Louis area.
That summer "conversations about race became so intensified and polarized that we were actively seeking voices that we could trust, and through this process came to know Louis," he added.
The three created the podcast together with Sara Perla, the communications manager for The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America in Washington, who provided the editing and creative direction.
"In many ways," Herrera stressed, "this project is just the fruit of the conversations that we have with each other and so many Black Catholics in Baltimore and across the country as we've tried to grow in our own love and understanding."
The episodes focus on Baltimore. Both Herrera and Jones reside in Baltimore County.
The first episode, "The Black Catholic Church," introduces the podcast while examining the different approaches to understanding how Black Catholics fit into the larger U.S. Catholic experience, according to the synopsis.
The second episode, "The Neighborhood: Blockbusting in Baltimore City," explores how the West Baltimore neighborhood of Edmondson Village changed from being essentially all white to all Black in 10 years. The next episode, "The Church: Blockbusting in Baltimore City," expands on Edmondson Village by focusing on St. Bernardine, the Catholic church at its center.
The last episode, "St. Frances Academy and Today," examines the church's historical role in the education of African Americans and discusses the bigger picture of Black Catholics today, including those who are asking the Church to speak more clearly about racism and the racial divide.
Jones said Catholics "should absolutely celebrate" the Juneteenth holiday "as an important step in our country's journey toward a greater embrace of the Catholic social values of freedom and justice."
"Juneteenth is the story of how people who were legally freed from the bonds of slavery were deprived of that news due to the slave owners' attempts to avoid the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln by escaping to Texas, leaving slaves in bondage for over two years illegally," he described. "Juneteenth was the day of celebration for those formerly enslaved persons, rejoicing in finally being able to experience the end of the depersonalizing and dehumanizing institution of slavery."
Noting it has been a state holiday in Texas since 1980, Jones said celebrating it as a nation "is both a memorial of the suffering that many of our fellow Americans experienced throughout the time of slavery, as well as a rejoicing in the immense progress that has happened since that time."
He said Juneteenth "should be leading us to continue to be reflective about ways that we can grow towards those Catholic social values of truth, freedom, justice, and love in the present, keeping at the forefront the dignity of every human life," he concluded.