Black Catholics at congress urged to 'listen, learn, think, act and pray'

By Jean Gonzalez

Fla. (CNS) — United by the words of the prophet of social justice, Catholic Church
leaders urged black Catholics to become active, just disciples of Christ.

than 2,000 converged on Orlando July 6-9 for the 12th National Black Catholic
Congress where speakers — clergy, lay and religious — addressed a variety of
topics and concerns facing black communities and families, while urging those
present to take an active, enthusiastic role in living out the Gospel as just
disciples of Christ.

his homily at the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary,
Queen of the Universe, Father Patrick Smith, pastor of St. Augustine Parish in
Washington, spoke about the “ridiculous power of the Christ on the cross” and
how our own suffering can be offered up to God as a source of healing for

is important the community does talk about its struggles, the priest said, but it
also must talk about the redemptive power of God on the cross. He added while
“racism ultimately leads to death … a spiritual suicide in our souls,” the
truths of the Gospel sets lives free.

is our anger, but also our source of hope,” he said. “You and I cannot
appreciate the good news unless we first face and acknowledge the bad news.”

roots of the Black Catholic Congress stem from 1889 with layman and journalist
Daniel Rudd, who brought together 100 black Catholic men to exchange and
discuss questions affecting their race for not just Catholic blacks, but blacks
across the country, and unite for a course of action while standing behind the
Catholic Church and its values.

group met with President Grover Cleveland during its first congress. In meeting
and uniting, Father Smith said the Catholic Church demonstrated and voiced how
“black Catholic lives mattered,” just as other groups have done as they
convened when a group has suffered, such as with the pro-life groups who
proclaim unborn lives matter.

Catholics are born from the same womb of the baptismal font,” Father Smith
said, adding that those gathered for the congress did not convene to achieve
higher status, but rather to insist on “inclusion” because black Catholics are
equal members of the body of Christ.

also, more importantly, (we gather) to extort and challenge ourselves to do our
part and accept the responsibility in our role in the Church that God has given
us. … We gather to see how to effectively evangelize because eternal life is
way too important.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral
Human Development, offered the opening keynote address that focused directly on
the theme of the congress taken from the prophet Micah — “The Spirit of the
Lord is upon me: Act justly, love goodness and walk humbly with your God.”

first point reaffirmed the united community of disciples of Christ and the need
of inclusion of all “children of God.”

Pope Francis speaks, he doesn’t speak to nations, races and tribes; he speaks
to humanity invited to be disciples of Jesus. And we respond first and foremost
to this,” Cardinal Turkson said. “For there is no Gospel for
Africans. There is no Gospel for Americans. There is no Gospel for Italians or
Europeans. There is one Gospel for all of us created in the image and likeness
of God we seek to respond to. … God’s children all belong together. None are
set aside, none should live on the periphery and none are excluded.”

demonstrate the power of being a disciple of Christ, Cardinal Turkson spoke
about the story from Exodus of the Israelites following Moses in the desert. He
asked those gathered to envision facing the Red Sea with the waters of parted
and a path sandwiched between two walls of water.

cardinal joked “water is never concrete” and some might have questioned what would
happen if there was a really big wind. But the example of the Israelites who
choose to follow Moses and trust God to hold up the walls of water demonstrates
the courage and attitude that modern-day Christians must hold to be baptized in
Christ and become just disciples of Christ.

is what baptism is. It is not a nominal celebration. It is a decision to live
dependent on making Jesus your everything,” Cardinal Turkson said, borrowing
the words of St. Paul who said after his conversion, “The life I live now is no
longer mine.” “Anyone baptized lives that life. … It is not until you surrender
your life to Jesus that you will live as a just disciple of Christ.”

reconciliation and peace are tantamount to unite the church family of God.
While Cardinal Turkson said challenges such as tribalism in Africa and racism
and discrimination in America present struggles, the Catholic Church family is
invited to live beyond divisions and live in communion as children of God.

this family of God we need to live justly,” he said. “When we respect the
demands of our relationships, we are just.”

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Gonzalez is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.


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