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The labors of our heroes shall never be in vain.

Peter-Claver Obioma Anochirim, nSSJ reflects on his pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Unknown Slave during the 2023 Institute for Black Catholic Studies.

A pilgrim kneels before the Tomb of the Unknown Slave at St. Augustine Catholic Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, in July 2023. (Peter-Claver Obioma Anochirim, nSSJ)

In the hot sun and excessive heat earlier this month, I was privileged to walk the walk that my ancestors and your ancestors walked decades ago. This was a walk where I could only imagine the excruciating pain and torments that these great men and women of color experienced because all elements of life were against them; the weather hot and tough on their skins, the people who kidnapped them, cruel to their bodies and their lives filled with pain and bitterness.

On this long and breathtaking journey that started from Congo Square in New Orleans—where the enslaved people would gather to pray and play on their free days, which were only on Sundays—down to the Mississippi River, where they had been unpacked from the slave ships that had been their homes for months, I felt this unredeemed anger because of the greedy and selfish desires of some European (White) folks that put my ancestors and yours in an inhumane and unkempt condition and environment.

I could do nothing but draw inspiration from the walk, filled with different folks of vast African ancestry dancing to the various drum beats of the well-talented African-American drummers. This walk called my attention to ask how I—how you—could make the labors of these great men and women of color whom we call “(s)heroes” not be in vain because while:

…I walked this walk with my hands-free -----theirs were bound with chains…

…I walked this walk with my legs free--------theirs were bound in fetters of iron...

…I had the liberty to quench my thirst with water and energy drink-------they quenched their thirst with their dry saliva…

…I could clean the sweat on my face——theirs dried up on their faces and skins…

Therefore, this is a wake-up call to all and sundry to pick up this mantle, for it is the responsibility of everyone to be agents wiping the blood and tears of the different hearts and faces of those around us that are bleeding—bleeding from all sorts of injustice, bleeding because their freedom has been stolen, bleeding because of hunger and thirst, bleeding from all animalistic traditions and cultures, and finally, bleeding from racism. 

It is our responsibility to have a basic charity for people around us, irrespective of race, tribe, skin color, or sexuality. 

Peter-Claver Obioma Anochirim, nSSJ is a native of Nigeria and is currently undergoing formation for the Catholic priesthood with the Josephite Fathers and Brothers. In summer 2023, was enrolled in the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana.

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