Since February is Black History Month, I thought it would be appropriate to address a question that many have asked me over my past twelve years of full-time ministry. Whenever I have a speaking engagement or I am conversing with people of a different race, I am inevitably asked, “What’s up with all that ‘Black’ stuff?” or “Why does something have to be labeled as ‘Black and Catholic’ and not just ‘Catholic’?” I thought this would be an apropos time to address this question.
Black Catholics have been around since the founding of the Church. Many scholars have proven that Black people were present throughout the Bible - from the Old Testament tribes and Simon of Cyrene that helped Jesus carry his cross, to the Ethiopian Eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles. Also, Black Catholics were present when the first Catholics set foot in this country in St. Augustine, Florida in 1513 and Los Angeles, California in 1765. Although our history extends to the beginnings of our faith, our history also includes times when we have been viewed as “second-class citizens” in the Church. At times, we have faced unfair prejudices both racially and culturally. Our expression of faith was viewed as not “authentically Catholic” or our historical contributions to the faith were ignored. Hear the words from Sr. Thea Bowman herself, one of the six African Americans on the road to Canonization: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOV0nQkjuoA&t=87s.
This is why many, such as some of my family and friends, left the faith. However, many others have courageously and faithfully chosen to stay despite these factors. This is why Offices of Black Catholic Ministries and organizations like the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver and Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies exist: to make sure that we, as Black Catholics, have a place where our voices can be heard and a place for us to share our gifts with the wider Church. In fact, November has been designated as Black Catholic History Month around the country.
The reason things are labeled “Black and Catholic” is no different than when our brothers and sisters of other cultural backgrounds (i.e. Hispanic, Asian, etc.) lift up their expression of Catholicism. Black Catholics, specifically African American Catholics, express and celebrate the Catholic faith through the unique lens of our history, language, artwork, dress, music and other forms of expression.
Our “Black Catholic” programs and ministries are not intended to separate, but are an open invitation to all for enrichment, education and communion as brothers and sisters. Our history, our dedication to the faith and our contributions to the Church remind all of us that Black Catholics are truly a gift to be shared with the wider community. You can learn more about the struggle and gift of being Black and Catholic at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAmzyXxcKeg.