WASHINGTON (CNS) — Delegates attending Congress XII of the National Black Catholic Congress in Orlando, Florida, in July will take on new responsibilities this time around.
Rather than working from a draft of a pastoral plan developed prior to the congress as per tradition, the 2,000 attendees will be tasked with developing a pastoral plan during the July 6-9 gathering and taking it home to their parishes and dioceses.
“We’re interested in what the people have to say, what’s in their hearts. It’s what they want to see addressed (by the Catholic Church),” said Father Stephen D. Thorne, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Philadelphia and a congress leader.
“In the end, what is finally approved, we hope to see it reflected in the pastoral plan of the local bishop,” he told Catholic News Service. “Whatever the goals are — an African-American Catholic saint, or Catholic education and Catholic schools being viable in our communities and supporting them, or the violence of young people — can be included.
“It’s a real act of faith, an act of the Spirit, to come together kind of like in conclave, (and) have the people say what is in our hearts.”
The congress immediately follows the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.” Some congress participants are expected to be at both events.
Individuals in 50 dioceses have been discussing ideas for the pastoral plan in preparation for the congress, which is convened every five years. This year’s congress is the 12th. The theme is taken from the Gospel of Luke 4:18 and the Book of Micah 6:8: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: Act justly, love goodness and walk humbly with your God.”
Father Thorne said the theme is meant to inspire how African-American Catholics “respond to the challenges we face in our world and our church.” From racism and the rise of white nationalism to youth violence, black Catholics are called to respond with love, understanding and resolve, he said.
The program for the congress includes daily plenary speakers and workshops focused on topics such as wisdom from black Catholic history; a discussion on the implementation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ anticipated pastoral letter on racism; the Eucharist; domestic violence; prison ministry; and serving the spiritual needs of urban youth in a secularized society.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is scheduled to address the opening session of the congress July 7. He also is to celebrate Mass for the delegates.
Other speakers include Bryan Stevenson, executive director of Equal Justice Initiative; Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois; Father Maurice Emelu, media evangelist and retreat leader; and Tricia Bent-Goodley, professor social work at Howard University.
Liturgy, prayer and retreats also are on the daily agenda.
A particular focus will be on meeting the needs of young people, added Father Thorne, who has attended the congress since 1987, starting as an 18-year-old.
“We realized we have work to do especially to engage our young adults,” he explained. “If we don’t listen to them and their concerns, we’re not going to have another congress.”
Just as important, Father Thorne said, is the response of African-American Catholics to the rising tide of racism and polarized politics across the country.
The priest recalled Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia and his public comments that encouraged people to bring justice and mercy to a world wrought with violence and division. He said the pope’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) can be particularly inspiring to carry on the necessary work.
“It’s unique times politically,” he said. “How do we live our faith in the public square? How do we create community in that challenged world? We cannot act for justice, love tenderly, without the Lord,” he said.
“That’s a message we can share to the wider community … and offer an alternative to the discourse in our country.”
Father Thorne said he expects the role of African-American, Latino and Asian Catholics in church life will continue to grow in the future. He said faith and better understanding of the Gospel call for justice in the face of racism and violence will guide the evolving church.
“Black Catholics have been through challenging times before. We are called to be men and women of resilience,” he said.
“Our diversity is one of the gifts we can offer. It reminds us that the church is truly catholic, universal,” he added.
The congress can help inspire the work ahead, Father Thorne said.
“We’re committed to being the leaven and beacon of hope. Eucharist every Sunday gives us the strength we need to go out for the work of justice.”
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I agree with Maureen that “white nationalism” is not the biggest threat to Black Catholics, but rather serious sin is as it comes to steal or weaken our faith in Christ our Lord. Racism is simply one mask of sin because it tries to separate us from our brothers and sisters in Christ to see a distinction that is superficial whenever we look up to the multitude of saints heaven from every country in the world. Issues should be address and not ignored but the fundamentals of our faith should be highlighting the good that is already present because of God’s infinite goodness and mercy through His Bride the Catholic Church. Our Blessed Mother is the bridge builder and if we hold on to her she will build us up because her faith is animated by perfect charity. God’s grace is the only power that heal wounds of division and the only real source of division is sin. May our Blessed Mother pray for us to be faithful witness to Jesus our only Savior.
St. Martin De Pores School and parish are doing well. I pray for them daily to Our Blessed Mother. The school is helped by Phila. business men. When I was working I tried to help them financially.
I am concerned about the Bishop’s comments regarding topics to be discussed at Black Catholic gathering, especially the “rise of white nationalism” and to some degree racism. I am white and married to a mixed race man with whom I have adopted two mixed race children. We have mixed race grandchildren. Yes, racism does exist but we do not look for it and we avoid it if we can. We do not let it hurt us nor do we let those people become a burden on our lives. We do not blame color for anything that happens in our lives and we move on.
My greatest concern is this pushing of the idea of “white nationalism” pushed by some groups in this country. It is a thought being overblown all over the place and I feel it is a lie that is causing more problems than the idea itself. I hope the Church doesn’t go too far down that road. Our brothers and sisters are being slaughtered all over the world and we should worry more about them than someone’s overblown idea of “white nationalism” in the US. I cannot believe how this talk is causing the same type of hatred again that I saw when we were in our teens (1960s).
Let us get past this and embrace the lives we have worked for and encourage hope for our young, not rehashing the past. We must forgive and not look for trouble where it does not exist especially if we might be the cause of it.