In the late 1980s, as Bishop-elect Fernand Cheri was concluding a visit to the home of Bishop Harold Perry, the elder priest excused himself, went to his bedroom and returned with a special gift: a pectoral cross given to Bishop Perry by Father Clarence Rivers, a black priest from Cincinnati and pioneer in the 1950s of bringing African-American expressions of culture into the Roman Catholic liturgy.
As Bishop Perry made the exchange, he said to Father Cheri, then the pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in New Orleans: “I think you would make better use of this.”
“This (gift) came out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting it. I said, ‘Oh this is a treasure!’ knowing that there were only a few (of these crosses) in existence,” Bishop-elect Cheri recounts of the moment.
The vibrant enamel piece, known as the “Freeing the Spirit” cross, features the three “liberation colors.” Red symbolizes love and the blood that was shed through the enslavement of men and women throughout history; black, in the form of the Dove of Peace, represents people of color; and green recalls “the sense of hope that was never lost,” Bishop-elect Cheri said.
The cross’ opposite side is engraved with words taken from Isaiah 61: “The Lord has breathed soul into me/ He has sent me to bring good news to the poor/ To mend broken hearts/ To proclaim freedom for the enslaved/ To seek deliverance for the oppressed.”
Bishop-elect Cheri, who had displayed the cross next to his music collection for almost 30 years, put it on for the first time after learning he would be ordained auxiliary bishop of New Orleans. It will be one of several pectoral crosses worn by him on a rotating basis, he said.
Bishop Perry, who was appointed auxiliary bishop of New Orleans in 1965, served in that role until his death on July 17, 1991, at age 74.
Beth Donze can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.