In Search of Saint Martin de Porres (Part 3 of 3)

Posted on July 7, 2011 by

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by Beatrice M. Hogg

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

As I grew up, church was no longer a part of my life. For the next thirty years, the only time that I went into a church was to attend a wedding. But I was a closet Catholic. At midnight each Christmas and Easter morning, I watched the celebratory Mass televised from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I secretly wished that I could be a part of the crowd watching the Pope give his blessings to the world. In spite of the Church’s rigid stances on abortion, birth control, sexuality, and gender roles, the awe and wonder that was the basis of Catholicism remained with me.

In 2002, I decided to go to the Good Friday Mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in downtown Sacramento. I gingerly walked across the threshold, unsure if I belonged. When I sat down and looked around, I was pleased by what I saw. The church was larger and more elaborate than St. Elizabeth’s, but it reminded me of my little church. The wood paneling, the stained glass windows, the elaborate crucifix above the altar― they all brought back warm memories of my childhood. Momma, who loved beautiful things, would have loved this big, elegant church.

There were people of all colors in attendance, representing the ethnic mixture of California. I felt comfortable among the other brown faces. They were the spiritual descendants of St. Martin de Porres and St. Benedict the Moor. When the Mass started, I was surprised that the familiar songs were still ensconced in my memory. During the Stations of the Cross, I even went up to touch the wooden cross that the priest held aloft for the prayers of the faithful. I left the church feeling lighter. I felt connected to my past in a way that I hadn’t felt in years. Maybe I would visit this church again.

A few years ago, the Diocese of Pittsburgh closed St. Elizabeth’s. When I went to Pennsylvania in August 2004, I was told that the building had been deconsecrated and turned into an office building. Even though I wanted to visit my hometown, I decided not to go because I did not want to see what had happened to my church. My faith was awakened in that church and it would always be a part of me. But I did not want to see it as it was now― defiled, common and ordinary.

The white rosary that I received at my First Communion now hangs on the bulletin board in my bedroom. My Saint Joseph Sunday Missal sits on my desk. The large white Catholic Bible that my mother bought me as a child sits in my living room. My mother’s black Catholic Bible is next to my bed.

One morning, I looked up St. Martin de Porres on the Internet. These days, he is considered the saint of multiracial people and the patron of interracial justice. But to me, he will always be remembered as my first contact with a non-white Catholic world.

When I went downtown the next day, for the first time I noticed the name of the transit stop that was a few blocks from Blessed Sacrament. It is called “St. Rose of Lima.” According to the information that I had read earlier, St. Rose of Lima was a close friend of St. Martin de Porres. I smiled at this coincidence. Even if I never set foot in a church again, I will always be proud to be a Black Catholic. The spirit of St. Martin and St. Elizabeth’s still lives within me.

Dóminus vobíscum. Et cum spíritu tuo.

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