By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — In cities all over the country, there are streets named “Division,” Deacon Ross Beaudoin told the congregation that filled St. James Parish on March 6.
Kansas City’s version of “Division Street” would be Troost Avenue, that runs a few feet from the altar at St. James where Mass has been celebrated for more than a century.
But March 6 was a special Sunday in the long history of St. James Parish, located at the intersection of 39th Street and Troost which is also the third busiest public bus station in the metropolitan area.
On that day, the congregation along with elected and appointed officials helped dedicate “Unite,” a 20-foot tall sculpture that expressed the mission and dream of the parish for healing across Kansas City’s historic “division street.”
And it was more than appropriate that the blessing and dedication take place just three days before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of healing and reconciliation, said Deacon Beaudoin, parish administrator.
“Divisions between people must be healed or violence results,” he said in his homily during Mass. “That violence may be physical, social or economic. But it will happen.”
“Unite” was commissioned as one of three pieces of public art installed along the ATA’s new Troost MAX express bus route to downtown Kansas City.
ATA General Manager Mark Huffer told the congregation assembled outside for the dedication that the ATA surveyed the neighborhood, and the themes of unity, reconciliation and healing along both sides of Troost Avenue came through loud and clear.
Miami, Fla, artist Jefre Manuel then conceived the towering sculpture, bringing to mind two hands joined in prayer. Backlighted at night, the sculpture also incorporates the artwork of neighborhood children, expressing their dreams of their futures.
Deacon Beaudoin told his congregation at Mass that St. James is located where it is for a purpose.
“Our trials and tribulations are the trials and tribulations of Troost Avenue,” he said. “We can and we must contribute to the healing of divisions in our community.”
Deacon Beaudoin briefly outlined the history of Troost as the de facto dividing line between white Kansas City and African-American Kansas City, between rich Kansas City and poor Kansas City, as financial institutions as a matter of policy “red-lined” black Kansas Citians east of Troost, refusing to grant them mortgages to move west.
“Troost became a racial, economic and social divide,” Deacon Beaudoin said to his congregation that could scarcely be more diverse in its own racial, economic and social composition.
But, he said, now is not the time for self-congratulation. Now, at the dedication of a work of art that expresses the parish’s special mission, is the time to re-dedicate to the goals of healing and reconciliation, Deacon Beaudoin said.
“You can’t give what you haven’t got,” he said. “No one among us is going to be an agent of healing and reconciliation for Troost Avenue if we aren’t actively an agent of healing and reconciliation in our own lives.”
He urged the parish to follow the example of Jesus even more closely as they begin Lent.
“Jesus accepted every person who came to him. No one was turned away,” Deacon Beaudoin said.
“Jesus cared for and gave his life for everyone,” he said.
Deacon Beaudoin reminded his congregation that the Gospel readings leading up to Lent have focused on the Beatitudes, “teachings we need to live by if we are going to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation.”
He also told the congregation that in the Gospel that day, Jesus exhorts his followers not only to listen to his Word, but to act on it.
“We do that because we do not want to add another ‘division street’ in our lives,” Deacon Beaudoin said.
“Our prayer this Lent can be Jesus’ prayer to heal our divisions,” he said. “Our fastings can be for whatever continues to divide us. Our almsgiving can be given of our time to one another, to listening, and to helping.”
Every time the parishioners see the sculpture “Unite,” they should be reminded of the special mission God has given to the church at 39th Street and Troost Avenue, Deacon Beaudoin said.
“We will bless and dedicate this sculpture that symbolizes the coming together of both sides of Troost,” he said.
“We will together take one more step in healing our divisions,” he said. “We will commit anew to living our lives now as we will live them in the hereafter — one family of God.”