Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Black Catholic History Month celebrates a strong presence in the Church

By David Okonkwo
Director, Ministry of the Assembly of Catholics of African Descent

The month of November is chosen to be the Black Catholic history month and it is also the month of All Saints and All Souls. The National Black Clergy Caucus selected this month to celebrate the history of blacks and canonized saints of African descent in Catholic history. The month of February is when the U.S and Canada cel­ebrate the achievements and contributions of African diaspora.

In our Diocese, we celebrate the inception of the Assembly of Catholics of African Descent in our Diocese which convened on the recommendation of Bishop Phillip Straling. Under the leadership of two stal­warts Ms. Thelma Bledsoe and Ms. Lois Carson the Assembly was born. A Mass of Celebration marking this month will be held on Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Church in Ontario.
Some ask why we celebrate November: So we will remember and tell our story all over again. As a people with a painful his­tory, we walk back with all and share it as it pertains to our faith.

When we look at the list of canonized saints in November who are of African descent, they include saints with the title “Father of the Church” and Archbishop St. Dionysius of Alexandra and St. Gela­sius, a pope who reigned for four years and made a tremendous impact to the life of the church and the papacy. St. Martin de Porres of Peru one of the favorites saints of blacks in the Americas, who is mostly famous for his humble service and as a re­cipient of extraordinary spiritual phenom­ena. The rest of the saints with their feast days in November include St. Pierius, St. Achillas, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Peter of Alexandria. The titles of some of these saints and their contributions must have persuaded the National Black Clergy Caucus to easily choose the month of No­vember.

It is true some have called the Catholic Church the “white man’s church,” but the contributions and presence of black Catho­lics has always been important. Simon the Cyrenian was forced to help Jesus carry the cross found in the synoptic gospels. In the Acts of the Apostles the one men­tioned by most scholars (Acts 8:26-40) is Philip meeting and baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch. And here in our beloved country, from the beginning Africans carried on their backs the foundation of the Catho­lic Church. Slave trade was a trade that permeated through all industry including the Church. This caused a lot of pain and severed many people from the Catholic Church. As a people of reconciliation we have worked over the past centuries for healing from these sins.

Religion came to America again on the backs of African slaves and their owners. As early as 1536, as history has it, three Catholic Spaniards missionaries and their Catholic Spanish speaking slave Esteban (Stephen) a Moroccan trekked into this side of Americas which was formerly a Mexican territory, and so became the first black Catholic Spanish speaking slave mis­sionary worker to come into America. The Spaniards established a colony in northern Florida and named it St. Augustine which attracted free blacks and slaves to settle there. St. Augustine is the oldest Catholic parish and non-Native American city. Here in our diocese, St. Anthony in San Bernar­dino became the base for African American Catholics as they helped erect the church and the convent. The parish was designated an African American (Black) parish by the diocese and has enjoyed many ecumenical events as different churches were invited to participate in gospel fests. From St. An­thony also came the first African America deacon for the diocese, Deacon Joseph Keyes who has passed, may his soul rest in peace.

Today, the composition of Black Catho­lics looks different than in the past. Along with African-American Catholics we have a growing number of African Catholics who have come to the United States from their home countries. This is reflected in the growing Nigerian and Nigerian Igbo com­munities in the diocese. In this month of remembering Black Catholic History it is important to remember that this is for all of us who share an African heritage. Together we celebrate our contribution and our place in this Universal Church!
The National Black Catholic Congress is still going on today and comes together ev­ery five years. Bishops of African descent together with the rest of the bishops who make it to the Congress concelebrate mass, catechize the congress attendees. They then work together to put forth “A Pasto­ral Plan of Action” which attendees take back to their dioceses, parishes and lives. And work to fulfill the action plan through which they impact lives neighborhoods filling their lives with hope.

1 comment:

  1. David: Congratulations on a beautiful, powerful liturgy. My husband was intrigued by the painting of Blessed Father Cyprian Tansi and so we googled him when we went home and read Pope John Paul II's homily for his beatification. Welcome to your Office, we are blessed to work with you and your community! Marie Widmann--Pro Life Catholic Ministries


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