Pastoral Letter: "What We Have Seen and Heard" Celebrates 25th Anniversary
By Therese Wilson Favors
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After 25 years their message is still relevant.
Black Catholic Bishops call for dynamic evangelization in the Black community.
In each generation, the Spirit gives a specific
assignment to its spiritual leaders. The assignment given usually is a unique,
yet prophetic call to move God's people to a higher level of mission. This is
what happened twenty five years ago (1984) when the African American Catholic
Bishops acted in unison to speak about evangelization within the African
American Catholic community through the Pastoral Letter, "What We Have Seen and
Heard". This was a Letter to us about evangelization.
In its Introduction, the Black Bishops speak…
"Within the history of every Christian community there comes a time when it
reaches adulthood. This maturity brings with it the duty, the privilege and the
joy to share with others the rich experience of the 'Word of Life.' Always
conscious of the need to hear the Word and ever ready to listen to its
proclamation, the mature Christian community feels the irresistible urge to
speak that Word … We write to you, Black brothers and sisters, because each one
of us is called to a special task. The Holy Spirit now calls all to the work of
If you are interested in reading a quick overview of
"What We Have Seen and Heard", please download pdf.
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At that hour, the Black Bishops called to memory a
quote of Pope Paul VI to the peoples of Africa when he said to them in Kampala
in Uganda:"You are now missionaries to yourselves"…And Pope Paul VI laid out for
all sons and daughters of Africa the nature of the response: "You must now give
your gifts of Blackness to the whole Church ( The Pope Speaks, 1969 Symposium in
Twenty five years ago, through this landmark
document, the Black Bishops speak of the role that culture plays in the ministry
of evangelization. "There is a richness in our Black experience that we must
share with the entire People of God." A discussion on the universality of the
Catholic Church follows the previously mentioned statement. The Bishops then
remind us that to be "universal does not mean to be uniformed", instead a
sharing of the gift of Blackness is our part of building up the whole Church.
They continue…"We have heard with Black ears and we have seen with Black eyes
and we have understood with an African heart". It is through this understanding
of culture and the universality of the Church that the Black Bishops call forth
the specific task of African American Catholics to evangelize among our own… "it
is our way to witness to our brothers and sisters within the Black community
that the Catholic Church is both one and also home to us all."
The Pastoral Letter "What We Have Seen and Heard"
also discusses and provides other strategies for evangelizing. They include…
- Understanding that African American spirituality is based on Sacred Scripture and the hope it promises.
- Proclaiming that the "good news" is a message of liberation and that
evangelization calls for forgiveness and reconciliation… "Without justice,
meaningful reconciliation is impossible."
- Placing special interest and outreach on the family and the extended
family. Church is extended family, that is why we call each other Brother
and Sister. Our Parishes can evangelize just through family outreach and
being family to one another, especially when family-hood is threaten.
- Confronting racism as it particularly impacts Black men and at the same
time calling forth Black men in their role of fostering a "vocation of
fatherhood" and to assert their spiritual strength.
- Supporting the role of women as sources of strength and examples of
- Promoting Black values, "especially new life within the mother, has always
been a value to Africans and to African Americans… as a people of faith, it
is our task to fight for the right of all of our children and in all the
circumstances of their existence".
- Nurturing Vocations. Sr. Thea Bowman said, "if you want vocations then each
family and individual must raise them within our families." We've got to
place into the imagination and heart of our young ones the awesome blessing
and joy of serving God and God's people as Priest, Brother, Deacon or as a
- Honoring Ecumenism within our evangelization efforts.
"What We Have Seen and Heard" was issued on the
feast day (September 9,) of St. Peter Claver, who compassionately worked among
Africans who were enslaved. In the coming months, let us examine this wonderful
and inspiring Pastoral Letter with prayerful review and assess our
evangelization efforts within our parishes and organizations.
The Spirit that moved among the ten Black Bishops of
yesterday to compose this Pastoral Letter still has a potent force today,
seeking to stir the souls of those who strive to please God. Let's "report for
duty!" For a copy of the Letter call 410-625-8472.
By Therese Wilson Favors, Director
Office of African American Ministries
This article originally appeared in "The Catholic
Review" on September 2, 2009.
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