On July 18 many Catholic faithful from across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia departed for the National Black Catholic Congress XI, in Indianapolis,Indiana. The Philadelphia contingent, numbering over 110, traveled by bus, car and train to join with approximately 2,800 other Black Catholics and Catholics who work in the Black apostolates from all over the United States.
It is believed thatPhiladelphiahad the largest diocesan representation. If we didn’t, we certainly made enough noise at roll call to let everyone know we were there!
I was part of the group of 35 Philadelphians who partnered with the Camden Diocese to take the 13-hour bus ride toIndianapolis. With people from 12 differentPhiladelphiaparishes on our bus, we sang, prayed and praised God on our way across three states and intoIndiana.
At one point, on the return trip, as our old, creaky bus was laboring up a steep grade, the bus driver urged us to use our feet like Fred Flintstone. Someone in the back started singing, “We’ve Come This Far by Faith,” and we all joined in. Faith was the perfect gear we needed to engage to get us up that mountain!
The theme for Congress XI was Faith Engaged: Empower. Equip. Evangelize. We gathered from July 19 through July 21 to listen, learn and share information about our faith, our commitment and our community. We came to Congress XI to be energized and re-energized so that we could return to our cities empowered and equipped for the work of evangelization.
During the three-day congress we worshipped God daily in spirit-filled Eucharistic celebrations, led by a Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop Edward Braxton and Bishop Shelton Fabre, with many priests concelebrating. The spirit of worship was evident in the way we clapped, sang and danced with the wonderful Mass choir made up of gifted talent from dioceses throughout the country. We were enriched by the Gospel messages and homilies proclaimed by the Cardinal, Bishop Braxton and Father Christopher Rhodes, a newly ordained African American priest.
Highlights of the congress included inspiring keynote addresses by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who told us her amazing story of survival and forgiveness and by Dominican Father Reginald Whitt, who spoke about the challenges of being Catholic today.
We were blessed with the availability of over 20 presenters who conducted various workshop sessions concerning faith, leadership, identity, prayer, healing, theology, history, abortion, marriage, fundraising and many other topics.
Especially notable were the sessions for the young people who attended the congress. The youth had their own session track and workshops from which they formulated a three-part Pastoral Plan for Youth. Their presentation was not only engaging, it was also inspiring, delivering the message that “young people are not just the future of our Church, they are the ‘now.’”
Each congress attendee came home with a draft document of the “Congress XI Pastoral Plan of Action Instrument.” It is a 10-point plan that each diocese will spend time reviewing, reflecting and commenting upon with a goal to issue the final plan in the fall. The outgrowth of this instrument will be a pastoral plan tailored for each diocese. Our follow-up here inPhiladelphiastarts right away as we attempt to spread the energy and good news that we were enriched with at Congress XI.
On Saturday morning, before the Closing Liturgy, there was an awards ceremony where one individual from each diocese was recognized for outstanding contributions to the spirit and life of Black Catholics. We are pleased and proud that Philadelphia’s recipient of the Servant of Christ award was Linda Love, from St. Benedict Parish in theGermantown area ofPhiladelphia. Love, who was a past director of the Philadelphia Office for Black Catholics, is a tireless advocate for education, the poor and social justice issues.
Linda has worked for many years to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to facilitate full, active and conscious participation of the African American community in the life of the Catholic Church.
Reflecting back on the Congress XI days, I can see the uphill challenge that the Black Catholic Church faces. We learned that similar and greater challenges exist throughout the country. Of the many issues that need to be addressed, we know that they cannot be addressed without a faith that is engaged.
Faith engaged is faith in action. Faith engaged means that, with God’s help, we will actively work to implement our pastoral plan for the Black Catholic community. We expect that through this plan we will work to grow the Black Catholic community, preserve and enhance Catholic education in our city, advocate and pray for new vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life, and to better engage the Black Catholic youth of our city in their faith life, their Church life and their communities.
“We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”
William Bradley is director of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Black Catholics.