More than 2,000 participants from across the country gathered in Orlando, Fla. last week for the 12th National Black Catholic Congress, exploring themes of racism and reconciliation, and hearing speakers who stressed the importance of being active to work for change.
Held July 6-9, the congress drew its theme from the prophet Micah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God.”
A preamble with principles for a pastoral plan of action, unveiled at the gathering, elaborated on this theme.
“We believe the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and Giver of Life, is upon us,” the document said. “Because of this, we recommit ourselves to live our Baptism as Catholics, be ‘authentically Black and truly Catholic’ and seek leadership in our Church on all levels.”
“We commit ourselves to act justly by living in proximity with those who are suffering and neglected,” it continued. “Specifically, we seek to promote the dignity and life of everyone person from the unborn to natural death. We commit ourselves to dismantle racism in all forms, which is an obstacle to justice and evangelization. We also commit ourselves to address the challenges of mental illness, mass incarceration, domestic violence and others.”
The document voiced a commitment to finding creative ways to share the faith, supporting local Catholic schools, and promoting the canonization causes of the five black men and women being considered for sainthood.
It reaffirmed the universal call to holiness through all vocations in the Church, and recognized a need to listen and respond to young adults in the community.
The National Black Catholic Congress, which is held every five years, stems from an 1889 meeting between President Grover Cleveland and a group of nearly 100 black Catholic men. The gathering was organized by journalist Daniel Rudd.
The 12th congress comes at a time of continuing unrest and racial tension in many parts of the country, ignited in 2014 with the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
In his keynote address, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana addressed themes of unity and reconciliation.
“When Pope Francis speaks, he doesn’t speak to nations, races and tribes. He speaks to humanity, invited to be disciples of Jesus,” the cardinal said. “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.”
None of God’s children should be marginalized or excluded, said Cardinal Turkson, who is the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Other speakers at the gathering included Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois; Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley, director of the Ph.D. Program at Howard University School of Social Work; Public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama; and Father Maurice Emelu of Nigeria, founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, Inc.
Topics ranged from family life, young adults and vocations to Catholic social teaching, mental health and theology of the body. Unity, reconciliation and responses to violence were prominent themes throughout the conference.
Rather than simply a 5-day conference, the event was intended “to generate ideas that encourage creativity, freedom and innovation,” which can then be put into practice locally and regionally in the coming months.
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a Day of Reflection will be held Aug. 5 at the Basilica of St. Mary to discuss ways to implement the ideas that came out of the congress.