With businesses along K Street in downtown Sacramento boarding up their windows and doors -- either to cover up glass that was smashed in the chaotic early days of protest against police brutality or to prevent future destruction -- the staff at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament boarded up its lower level entrance on K Street and the adjacent building at 1119 K Street, headquarters of the California Catholic Conference.
Valerie Ramos, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Elk Grove, and Cathedral parishioner Mirella Aguirre, used their artistic inspiration, gifts and skills to turn those sheets of plywood into impromptu canvases to spread a message of faith, peace and racial justice.
“My feelings about being involved this mural run deep,” says Valerie, a retired educator from the Sacramento Unified School District and also was director of religious education at St. John Vianney Parish in Rancho Cordova for several years.
“My husband, Carlos helped me unload all my paints and what I needed on K Street. I asked him to pray over me as I started painting. I wanted my work to be offered to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit to be my artist, be my hand, and guide my mind and my heart. I was crying as I was painting, just feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit. I thought this is an important mural to create, for people to see God’s word and to see the faces of Black Catholics, to know we have Black saints in the church. And that we are all praying in solidarity with our peaceful protestors and all people of good will to achieve justice and peace in our country.”
The colorful mural across the windows at 1119 K Street depicts Black saints, Augustus Tolton, Josephine Bakhita, Martin de Porres and Charles Lwanga, as well as Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Thea Bowman, whose cause for canonization was opened in 2018. Ramos says the background is four panels of color, modeled after the colorful Kente cloth, the national cloth of Ghana. Flanking each end of the mural are two women who represent modern day African American women, one with long braided hair and “no justice, no peace” on her shirt, and one with natural African hair, with “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) on her shirt.
“I see all of them walking together in peaceful protest,” Ramos says. “Charles is holding a cross high and they are all joining together in walking for justice for our Black brothers and sisters in the United States and around the world during this tumultuous time.” Each person in the mural has a “sacred halo,” adds Ramos, who painted the mural over two days and said people passing by on K Street spoke to her about its meaning and significance, took photos, and went to the Internet on their phones to research the saints painted in the mural.
“To me, the cloth of different colors is a sign of solidarity for all Black people around the world, that we are in this struggle together,” Ramos says. “We are not sticking our heads in the sand. Racism still exists in this world, and in our church. But together we are working and praying for God’s grace and mercy to help us grow in true justice and love.” She says she was inspired by the Scripture passage of Micah 6:8: “…And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Mirella Aguirre, a member of the young adult group at the Cathedral, painted the mural of the Blessed Virgin Mary in an embrace, hugging George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man who was killed by police May 25 during arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mirella’s mural is based on an Instagram sketch by Valerie Pax, which was obtained by Titi Kila, coordinator of the young adult group at the Cathedral.
Young adults at the Cathedral “prayed about what we could come up with for the mural,” Titi says. “They are very talented and poetry, art and music are always inspire them.”
Mirella had not before painted such a large mural, Titi notes. “The Lord was calling her to do a bigger canvas. Before she started, we prayed to Our Lady and thought about George, who cried out to his mother before he died. Mirella felt the Lord crying out to her at that moment, that her mural could evangelize people about our faith.”
Mirella took six hours to paint the mural. “She was praying the rosary while she was doing it, as that devotion is so close to her heart,” Titi says. “She knows Our Lady was calling her to do this.”