Archbishop William E. Lori prayed the invocation to start the Baltimore City Council’s June 14 virtual meeting and gave a short presentation about the work of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the city to members of the council.
The archbishop was invited by Council President Nick Mosby and prayed for a blessing on the city and its diverse communities and peoples.
“Help us to find new and better ways to put the gifts you have given us at the service of one another and at the service of those most in need,” the archbishop prayed, “and guide us to help all residents to develop their gifts and talents, for their own sake, for the common good and in praise of your goodness.”
He also prayed for safety, equity, justice and a spirit of cooperation for the city.
In his brief presentation about the archdiocese – a feature of the council agenda called a “showcase” – Archbishop Lori noted that one of his predecessors, Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, testified before the Baltimore City Council more than 50 years ago in favor of the open housing legislation, particularly opening housing for African Americans.
“Sadly, his testimony was met by booing from the crowd, many of whom were adamantly opposed to the legislation,” the archbishop noted, adding that the cardinal remained calm, and Cardinal Shehan and many legislators did not back down. “Thank God their efforts were eventually successful.”
Archbishop Lori said, “We are working together for the good of our residents.”
He noted the archdiocese’s history as the home of the first Catholic diocese in the country. “We have a long history, and I hope that the history that we write now will be one that will help people move toward equity, independence and a life of fulfillment.”
He shared with council members in advance of the meeting a two-page, at-a-glance picture of the archdiocese’s presence in the city through spiritual support, education, healthcare and social services.
“Through our history there has been a commitment to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, educating children in some of the most challenged neighborhoods, and offering support and compassion wherever it is needed,” he said. He added that many parishes stepped up to the plate during the pandemic to expand food distribution programs, and served as COVID testing and vaccination sites.
He noted that after the city government itself, the Catholic Church is the largest private social service provider in the city, an example of what the Catholic community and the city do together to identify the most focused and effective way to bring about significant and sustainable improvements in Baltimore.
The archbishop also highlighted three initiatives:
- The opening in the fall of Mother Mary Lange Catholic School on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the first new Catholic school in the city in nearly 60 years. The state-of-the-art school serving pre-K to eighth grade will have space for almost 550 students, most of whom will be eligible for financial aid, so that the school is accessible to all. The school will also feature a full gym that will be the envy of many high schools, and a turf field for soccer and lacrosse. He said he was grateful for the support of council members John T. Bullock (Dist. 9) and Eric Costello (Dist. 11), who serve that area, for their help in building relationships with the communities around the school to ensure it is seen “not as an intrusion but as an asset.”
- Working to end violence in the city. He noted that Catholic Charities of Maryland sponsors two Safe Streets projects, in Brooklyn and Sandtown-Winchester, to reduce violence in the neighborhoods where they operate. The archbishop noted the death by homicide in January of Dante Barksdale, who worked for the program. “We mourn the death of Dante Barksdale. His passing underlines the heroism of those who work in Safe Streets,” the archbishop said. He added that the archdiocese is working in partnership with the Baltimore Police Department and Roberta’s House to provide outreach to families who have lost a loved one to violence.
- Addressing systemic racism. Archbishop Lori said the archdiocese has been “doing some soul-searching of its own” to address systemic racism in its own institutions and parish communities. Though the process will never be truly complete, he said it is a priority of the archdiocese to “undergo, where it needs to happen, a true culture change.”
The archbishop offered to continue to meet with council members to “advocate with you for the good of the city.”
Mosby thanked Archbishop Lori for what he called “inspirational” words and noted that council members are looking forward to the ribbon-cutting at Mother Mary Lange Catholic School Aug. 6.
Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org.
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