Black Catholic History Month: Celebrating Steadfast Witness

Fittingly, the same month in which we commemorate the communion of saints, the Church in the United States also celebrates Black Catholic History Month, remembering and honoring the historic legacy and steadfast witness of the faithful with African or Caribbean heritage.  In fact, this proud faith history can be traced back to antiquity long before other nations heard the Good News as popes, saints and martyrs from Africa helped shepherd the early Church and make it what it is today.

In this land too, men and women of the African diaspora have helped shape the life of the Church in ways that all of us can find inspiration, whatever our ancestry. Our Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach offers resources recounting this remarkable movement of faith which has included times of great joy, but also sorrow.

The archdiocese is celebrating this rich heritage with our annual Mass this Friday evening at Saint Joseph Church in Largo.  Bishop Roy E. Campbell, Jr., will be the celebrant at this liturgy, which will also honor the archdiocese’s Gospel Choir and their steadfast witness in music.

The local history of Catholics of African and/or Caribbean descent is one of great achievements, vibrant community, social ministry and heroic Christian witness.  For example, Saint Augustine Parish – the “mother church” of African-American Catholics in Washington – was founded first as a school in 1858 by a group of emancipated men and women who left a legacy of dedication and the strength that is found in God.

Many of these courageous people in history suffered grave evils and insuperable obstacles, including slavery, segregation, oppression and indifference, to the everlasting shame of our nation. Yet, as I note in my pastoral letter, The Challenge of Racism Today, they persevered in constant faith.  As we face prejudice and injustice today, we must remember their stories and firm hope that the Lord walks with us.

Black Catholic History Month is an invitation to learn more and share this history which enriches our family of faith, including the stories of those being promoted for canonization: Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), known for his charity; Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange (1794-1882), founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence; Venerable Mother Henriette Delille (1812-1862), founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family; Julia Greeley (c.1835-1918), an evangelizer and model of mercy; and Father Augustus Tolton (1854-1897), the first U.S.-born African-American priest.

Added to these holy ones are countless others who have made invaluable contributions to the life of the Church.  In the Spirit who makes us one people, our family of faith rejoices in, and gives thanks to God for, this manifestation of the kingdom in our midst.