Cloud of Witnesses Puts Saints at the Center of Racial Reconciliation

PHOTOS WITH THE AUTHORIZATION OF THE NATIVITY OF MARY

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The Nativity of Mary Church in Bloomington is home to a special exhibit of post-George Floyd artwork that emphasizes the diversity of Saints and the unity of faith they shared.

The Cloud of Witnesses, located in the church’s gathering space, features eight framed images of men and women representing various ethnicities, each accented by a hand-painted golden halo symbolizing their holiness.

“The Saints reveal to us the reality that the Christian message is about conformity to Christ,” said Father Nathan LaLiberte, 36, pastor of the Nativity of Mary.

“The fact that they come from various backgrounds, cultures and races, and yet have pursued a singular goal, is incredible in itself,” he said. “Then reveal some of the heroic things these people have done, and they are truly inspiring witnesses to follow. “

The project began after the May 25, 2020 murder involving police in Minneapolis of Floyd, who was black, and the protests that followed.

“A parishioner, Ben Heidgerken, contacted me about his desire to have some sort of ‘Catholic’ response to our community, which is of a largely white racial origin, with a minority of African, Hispanic (and ) Asian. Said Father LaLiberte.

The two reflected on a series of art depicting saints, and Heidgerken, 37, identified eight saints whose lives involved cultural misunderstandings and conflict: Saint Juan Diego, Saint Martin de Porres, Saint Pedro Calungsod, the Blessed Christian de Cherge, Saint Joséphine Bakhita, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Saint Therese of Calcutta and the Venerable Henriette Delille.

“By telling their stories, we learn to emulate the virtues they have displayed in the face of the conflict they have experienced,” said Heidgerken, adjunct professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield and associate professor at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, in the south. Dakota.

For the past five years he has also taught an American Religious History course at St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul. The course influenced his desire to see Cloud of Witnesses come to fruition.

“In my teaching of American religious history at St. Paul’s Seminary, I have often championed the stories of saints as a central means of building up the body of Christ,” Heidgerken said. “Yet I realized that I had never actually worked to tell these stories in my own parish community.

“Helping our parish to build itself up to the fullness of the body of Christ is the goal of the Nativity of Mary Cloud of Witnesses”, he declared.

Erin wee

The 11 x 14-inch images of saints were created by parishioner Erin Wee, 28, an artist who is the director of admissions and marketing for the Nativity of Mary Catholic School. She worked from photos of the saints and when reference photos were not found for some, she suggested that the parishioners serve as role models for her work.

“I delegated this to Father LaLiberte, who reached out to parishioners with similar ethnicities to the Saints,” Wee said. “He took a few pictures of each person in different poses and sent them to me. “

Parishioner Weldon Makori, 23, received the invitation from Father LaLiberte; his face became the image of Saint Martin de Porres, a native of Peru who suffered persecution because of his race.

Makori, who came to Bloomington from Kenya 15 years ago with his family, said he was “extremely honored” to participate in the Flock of Witnesses.

“My spiritual journey has not been easy; I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, ”Makori said. “Erin’s artistic ability is amazing and I was speechless when I saw myself in this area. I could imagine this spiritual life that I discerned and prayed for.

“The whole experience continues to impact me and my faith,” he said.

Wee, a graduate of the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville with a degree in Communication and Art, used digital art for the Cloud of Witnesses, creating each piece on an iPad Pro tablet.

“Digital art is great for me as an artist and also for the mother of three young children because I don’t need to get out of paint etc. to work,” Wee said. “It also gives me some flexibility to reproduce the images. “

She started the project in late February 2021 and completed it in May, often working at her table with her kids coloring next to her, she said. “I told them about every saint and who they were as people; it was really powerful.

The Cloud of Witnesses was unveiled at the Nativity of Mary on Pentecost Sunday, May 23. In his homily, Father LaLiberte noted that the feast of Pentecost “reveals to the world that God is not tied to any culture, race, or place, but desires to be experienced by everyone.

“” Cloud of witnesses “comes from the text of the Book of Revelation which speaks of the existence, in heaven, of a cloud of witnesses from all nations, languages ​​and peoples, who are before the throne, praising God for all eternity, ”said Father LaLiberte. .

The installation led to “new and unexpected conversations” with members of the parish community, Heidgerken said. He plans to bring a traveling set of images to other parishes during Advent and Lent, starting with St. Bonaventure in Bloomington.

His presentation on the collection will include a break for prayer, a small group discussion and a history of Catholicism and slavery, he said.

The original images remain on display at the Nativity of Mary. “Now, when we come together to commune in our gathering space, we are surrounded by examples who pray for us and inspire us on our journey to the kingdom of God,” Heidgerken said.

For more information on the Cloud of Witnesses, including short videos about each saint, visit nativitybloomington.org/About-Us/Nativitys-Cloud-of-Witnesses. To host the art or presentation, Heidgerken can be contacted at [email protected].


STORIES OF SAINTS

Saint Juan Diego was a member of the Chichimeca people in what is now Mexico. He converted to Christianity 10 years after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the center of the Aztec Empire, in 1521. He received visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, culminating with the gift of Our Lady of the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He spent the rest of his life serving the pilgrims at the site.

Saint-Martin de Porres was a Métis (African and possibly indigenous) Dominican lay person in what has become Lima, Peru. He was refused full membership in the Catholic religious orders of his day because of his racial heritage. He worked in the infirmary of his religious community and was known there for his miraculous healings.

Saint Peter Calungsod was a Filipino lay catechist from the 17e century. Very young, he left his people to study and take up a mission with the Jesuits of the Mariana Islands. He was martyred on the island of Guam at the age of 17.

Blessed Christian de Cherge was a Frenchman whose Trappist religious community lived in northern Algeria. During the Algerian civil war, Islamic extremists endangered the peace of all the peoples of the country; The community of Father de Cherge remained in solidarity with the Muslim community there. He was martyred by these extremists in 1996.

Saint Josephine Bakhita was a Sudanese woman who was held as a slave at the end of the 19e century by Turkish Muslims and Italian Christians. While still a slave, she was brought to Italy, where she embraced Christianity while living with the Canossian Sisters. She fought for her legal freedom in Italy and spent the rest of her life in prayer and service with her religious community.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was a Mohawk layman whose family died of smallpox when she was very young. At 20, she accepted baptism and dedicated her life to Mary. She died separated from her tribe at the age of 24.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta was an Albanian who spent most of her life in missionary efforts in India. Inspired by Christ in 1946, she founded her own religious order called the Missionaries of Charity, who were dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor in India. For much of her life, she lived in a deep spiritual union with the poor and with Christ, known as the Dark Night of the Soul.

Venerable Henriette Delille was a Métis woman born into the stratified pre-war New Orleans society. She became the first Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious order for Métis women who raised slaves before the Civil War when it was illegal to do so. She died in 1862, the year before the emancipation proclamation.

– Ben Heidgerken

Key words: Blessed Christian de Cherge, Bloomington, Cloud of Witnesses, Digital Art, Diversity of Saints, Erin Wee, Father Nathan Laliberte, Nativity of Mary Catholic School, Nativity of Mary Church, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Juan Diego, St. Kateri Tekakwitha , Saint Martin de Porres, Saint Pedro Calungsod, Saint Therese of Calcutta, Venerable Henriette Delille

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