Tenth National Black Catholic Congress
Welcoming Ceremony Address
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Buffalo Convention Center, Buffalo, New York
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has given us the privilege to gather as the Tenth National Black Catholic
Congress. Formed by the convictions of the Gospel, filled with the Holy Spirit,
and inspired by the witness of our ancestors, we are deeply grateful for the
gift of our Catholic Christian and African heritage. Our contributions to our
Church and society enriches the lives of people of every ethnicity.
Within the Church, we strive to be faithful to the teaching of Christ which has been handed down to us through the Apostles. In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, God the Father has made us His beloved children, followers of our Lord Jesus Christ within the fellowship of the Church.
While the Church that Christ founded is holy, the members of the Church continually need conversion (Catechism of the Catholic Church 825). Catholics of African descent in this nation have offered a prophetic witness. Bearing the mark of catholicity means that the Church must be vigilant in confronting racism and correcting its consequences. Some Black Catholics of my grandparents' generation remember sitting in a segregated area in church (either the back or the balcony) and receiving Holy Communion last. They knew that these practices were not a reflection of the true teachings of the Church. It was the grace of the sacraments that enabled Black Catholics to speak out that change must happen. Thank God that there were others who stood with us, including members of the hierarchy and other pastoral leaders.
The issue of whether it is appropriate for our Faith to influence our approach to public policy has not been a vexing one for us. Our people has experienced the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a liberating path through: preaching and teaching; spirituals and hymns; prayer and fasting; the celebration of the sacraments and our commitment to serve in our communities. Events in our nation since the last Congress - such as the slow governmental response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a popular talk show host using a nationwide platform to attempt to demean the achievements of African American women at Rutgers University - dispel any notion that racism is dead in the United States of America.
Since the first Congress in 1889, the Movement has cooperated with sacramental graces to have a positive impact in our Church, across our nation, and around the world. Now, we are gathering in Buffalo twenty years after the resumption of these Congresses. The sixth Congress met in Washington, D.C. in 1987. Over 1500 people responded to the call of the Lord by saying, "Here I am, send me!" (cf. Isaiah 6:8; This was the theme of Congress VI) They developed a pastoral plan to build on the momentum started by the Black Bishops in their pastoral letter of 1984,
What We Have Seen and Heard.
In 1992, the seventh Congress met
in New Orleans to approve pastoral and public policy strategies to strengthen
the African American family. The
eighth Congress met in
Baltimore in 1997 to heighten awareness to be witnesses of Christ and His Church
always and everywhere. We are ambassadors for Christ, speaking "on behalf of the
Lord to heal, to mend, to comfort, to build [and] to restore" (cf. 2 Corinthians
5:20; Congress 8). "What we have seen and heard, we proclaim and celebrate" (Ibid.; This was the theme of
Congress VII). There was a great celebration of worship at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. when we dedicated
Our Mother of Africa Chapel (Ibid.)
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