Holy Name Cathedral resounded with the voices of 1,200 Catholic school students and chaperones from across the archdiocese as they prayed, sang and danced at the 40th annual African American Heritage Prayer Service Feb. 23. Cardinal Cupich welcomed the students to the service, which had the theme “Kwanzaa: First We Are One in the Spirit.” Cardinal Cupich told the students that there are many people who are working and praying and sacrificing for their success, including people they don’t even know. The young people must remember that they are not going it alone, he said. “One of the things that is so corrosive to our hearts is this feeling that we are on our own in this enterprise of being human,” the cardinal said. Instead, people find strength in solidarity with other people, including other people who might be different from them. To that end, he advised the students to have the curiosity of a young child when they meet people who are different. Instead of being afraid, they must be open to learning, he said. They also must make an effort to meet people outside of their own “tribes,” and learn to appreciate other cultures and other ways of thinking. Those different cultures create something beautiful when they come together. “It’s like this wonderful choir,” Cardinal Cupich said, indicating the group that included students from the Academy of St. Benedict the African, St. Ailbe School, St. Philip Neri School and St. Sabina Academy. “Different voices come together in beauty and harmony but remain distinct.” Then, to know they are fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to love one another, the young people must be willing to forgive and to show mercy. “That’s the real test,” the cardinal said. “Dig into your hearts and show mercy and forgiveness. God gives us this great ability he has to forgive one another. Use that power.” Marist High School senior Peyton Ashford also spoke about the role faith plays in her life. Ashford, who received the Junior African American Heritage Award, is a parishioner at St. Ailbe, serves as a lector and extraordinary minister of Communion, and volunteers every day assisting senior citizens at Providence Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. She said that when she signed up for the volunteer program at Marist, she asked to be sent to an elementary school, and she wasn’t thrilled when she found out she would be working with senior citizens. Now, she said, she regrets being so hesitant. She enjoys the senior citizens’ company as she helps serve lunch, plays cards or bingo with them and listens to their stories. “My biggest goal is keeping my seniors happy,” said Ashford, who is not sure where she will attend college next year. She intends to study broadcast journalism. Her parents and grandparents, who accompanied her to the service, said Ashford has always been involved in her parish and school. The youngest of Yolanda and Derrick’s three children, and the youngest of Pamela and John Ashford’s six grandchildren, Peyton has always been outgoing and willing to make her voice heard. Peyton said she was shocked when she got the news that she would be receiving the award. In her witness talk, she told the students to remember that she is still a work in progress — “God hasn’t finished molding me into a masterpiece yet” — but also embraced the responsibility of setting an example for younger children. “I want to be that role model,” she said. Bishop Joseph Perry, episcopal vicar for Vicariate VI, and Father David Jones, pastor of St. Benedict the African Parish, also received African American Heritage awards. Jones told the students that 40 years ago, at the first such service, he was sitting in a pew like they were. “I hope and believe and pray that it won’t take 40 years for you to do the good work of God so you can be up here,” he said.