By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Column
In the same way, our civic and religious communities have stories to pass on. One amazing story that has been retold for more than 200 years by both our civic and faith families has roots in what happened in the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815, in Chalmette, just downriver from New Orleans. It is a story of perseverance in prayer during an overnight vigil on the eve of the battle.
The Ursuline Sisters and the wives and children of many of the American soldiers invoked the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor for her aid in saving the city from the invasion of the British Army, a force far superior in numbers to the rag-tag American forces cobbled together by Gen. Andrew Jackson.
As noted in the Ursuline Sisters’ archival accounts, the Sisters were participating in Mass at the very time an emissary from the American troops burst into their chapel with the incredible news that the mighty British army had been defeated in a brief battle, saving the city from falling into foreign hands. It is well-documented that the Ursuline Sisters cared for the wounded soldiers of both sides. That was their mission as Catholic missionaries and as spiritual and physical healers.
Shortly after the Battle of New Orleans, Gen. Jackson visited the Sisters to thank them for their prayers to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and the Ursulines then pledged that a Mass of Thanksgiving would be celebrated every year on Jan. 8 to honor Our Lady of Prompt Succor for her intercession.
And so, we will honor that commitment today for the 204th time at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on State Street. The family story is continuing to be told.
Each year when we celebrate the Battle of New Orleans, I am also reminded that we as a community today are faced with a “Second” Battle of New Orleans – a battle against violence, murder and racism.
The violence in so many American cities is not of God and requires the faith community not only to pray but also to support the efforts of our civic leaders in making our archdiocese a place of peace, where disputes are settled not by guns and knives but by peaceful dialogue.
For the last eight years, every church in the archdiocese has recited “Our Family Prayer” to invoke the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in this Second Battle of New Orleans. You have heard it before, and I hope it has become something you can recite from memory:Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.
We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.
Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our times. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.
Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us.
Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.
I was heartened to read an end-of-the-year story that the number of murders in New Orleans and in many surrounding areas has dropped to its lowest rate in nearly 50 years. This gives us evidence that Mary is praying with us and for us in this new Battle of New Orleans, and we thank her for her motherly intercession. My prayer is that such a hopeful trend continues.
I applaud our civic leaders for finding new ways to support mentoring and conflict-resolution programs that can contribute to the common good. I am especially grateful to the members of our Catholic Charities staff, who run a parenting and mentoring program called Isaiah 43, which teaches children and adults alike how to settle disputes peacefully and to respect the dignity of every human life. Our Office of Racial Harmony also does wonderful work in exposing the hidden reality of the sin of racism and conducting peace walks through our neighborhoods.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us rid our community of violence, murder and racism! Thank you for your motherly intercession, which has helped us to make progress.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.