Brother Charles Warthen

The man dressed as Frederick Douglas, the escaped slave and abolitionist, stood at the shore where the first enslaved Africans arrived by boat in 1619. This man, Nathan Richardson, joined the Tidewater Sowers of Justice and the Norfolk Catholic Worker group on the second leg of a prayer pilgrimage begun to raise awareness of racial inequality. This issue, with the global coronavirus, remains one of the two challenging threats of this 400th anniversary year. 

It is also a significant anniversary for our Xaverian community as it was on these sites in southeast Virginia called Hampton Roads and Tidewater, and more recently The Seven Cities, that the Xaverian Brothers’ presence was strongly felt for the past 120+ years. In 1891, Xaverian staffed Norfolk’s St. Mary’s High School; in 1892, St. Paul’s Parochial School was under the Brothers’ care. And in 1903, St. Vincent’s School in Newport News saw our ministry. At Old Point Comfort, the novitiate trained Xaverian Brother candidates for 40 years starting in 1921. This pilgrimage then, deep in the spirit of more than a century old Xaverian ministry, continues the vision of our founder, Theodore Ryken. 

The prayerful pilgrimage led our group to landmarks and monuments tied to the region’s role in the slave trade. The first leg, in September, led the group to Confederate monuments in Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, and Norfolk; sites where slaves were sold, beaten, and brutally punished, often fatally. In October, we gathered at the water’s edge of Ft. Monroe where Africans were first brought as indentured servants. The final leg of the pilgrimage took the group 100 miles west to the Richmond Slave Trail in November. 

A journey without change is to be a tourist, but to go outside one’s comfort zone and gain a new perspective is to be a pilgrim. For our faith to be pro-life, we must be pro-lives. Black lives must truly matter to all of us. 

Click here to view pictures from the pilgrimage. 

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