Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley
The Twelfth National Black Catholic Congress Prayer, composed by Bishop Fernand Cheri
Congress XII in photos...
EJI gives children sentenced to life in prison without parole another option
By NBCC Staff | photos from www.EJI.org
“Fourteen states in the United States have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults.” (All Children Are Children, EJI publication, p. 5).
In an interview with Jennifer Taylor, Staff Attorney with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit, privately-held human rights organization, it became tragically apparent that the injustices of mass incarceration and excessive punishment within the justice system in the United States are not limited to young adults and adults of color. Incredibly, children under the age of 18 – many between the ages of 12 to 14, and as noted above, some as young as age eight – have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The work of EJI began in the 1980’s as the organization identified inmates who had been wrongfully convicted due to ineffective representation. EJI offered legal assistance to those who had been sentenced to execution in an effort to have the cases retried. Alabama has the highest rate of juvenile death-sentences, and EJI has interceded on behalf of many children facing execution in that state. In 2005, the Supreme Court “banned the execution of juveniles” and the death sentence was no longer imposed on children 17 and under (All Children Are Children, p. 16).
The EJI website lists thirteen states that currently have no minimum age for prosecuting a child as an adult: Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Although children receive protections in every other area of the law due to the recognized deficiencies in their ability to reason and identify consequences (i.e., child labor laws, legal drinking age, driving restrictions, etc.) these states can impose harsh penal sentences leaving these children vulnerable to physical, sexual, and mental abuse (http://eji.org/news/13-states-lack-minimum-age-for-trying-kids-as-adults).
Another focus of EJI is to eliminate the inhumane issues connected to prison internment. These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and inadequate access to healthcare including psychological health. In the case of incarcerated children, they “have very limited experience managing their disabilities, anxieties, fears, and trauma” (All Children Are Children, p.12). This may result in behavior that is seen as impulsive or reckless, and these children are given additional punishments that are more detrimental to their mental health.
Taylor recounted one of EJI’s juvenile cases that centered on Evan, a boy who was physically and emotionally abused to the point of attempting suicide at age 5. At age 14, Evan and another youth were given drugs and alcohol by a man, who then attempted to grab Evan. Evan and the other youth hit the man with a bat and set fire to his trailer, resulting in the man’s death by smoke inhalation. Evan was “sentenced to die in prison in Alabama without any consideration of his age or the abuse he suffered throughout his short life” (p. 26).
The case went to the Supreme Court in March 2012 after being petitioned by EJI. EJI argued “sentencing kids to life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment” (p.25) as well as a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court held that such sentences for children convicted of homicide and under the age of 17 were unconstitutional, and more importantly, gave judges the ability to impose less severe judgements. The Court did not ban life without parole sentences for juveniles, however, but required judges imposing sentences to consider the lack of rational reasoning in children in addition to their capacity to change as they mature. The court further stated that these considerations should lessen the incidences of such harsh sentences (p. 27).
EJI is currently working on 90 active cases in Alabama, petitioning the courts for retrial and reduction of the life in prison without parole sentences imposed on these juveniles, and Taylor estimates that there are a total of 2,500 such active cases across the United States. She maintains that in order for EJI to successfully represent these children in court, it is imperative for the community to get involved. If the public is aware that such harsh sentences have been imposed on children, they are more likely to become involved in petitioning their local legislators for policy changes, and insisting that judges who sentence juveniles are held accountable for the harsh punishments they impose. Taylor said that if the community is not involved, the same judges who imposed the initial life sentence will sit on the retrial and are not likely to lessen the severity of the sentence; it is only through the intercession of the public that the judges will recognize the injustice that is meted out to children in the court system.
For more information about the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the programs and initiatives mentioned above, and more importantly, how you can help, please go to: https://eji.org/.
Highlights of the event also included special greetings from Pope Francis to Congress XII attendees presented by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who was present for the entire event.
We were also blessed by the keynote address of His Eminence, Peter Kodwo Cardinal Turkson, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and President of the Vatican Office of Justice and Peace, who also was present during the entire event.
I offer special thanks to Fr. Claude Williams, a Norbertine priest of the Diocese of Orange, California, for his efforts in originating the concept, creation, and development of the beautiful mural that hung above the altar during the on-site liturgies. Information about the art and its availability will soon be available on the NBCC webpage.
While most of us were enjoying the many features of the Congress event, Fr. Steven Thorne, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was quietly meeting with a select group of Congress participants chosen beforehand by their bishops. They were set with the task of developing the framework of a Pastoral Plan, which they will continue to develop and which will be available in a few months.
Before and during the event Ms. Tonya Dorsey of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia worked tirelessly in developing the musical program, composed of a variety of musical genres, including the contributions of most contemporary, as well as classical, African American and African Catholic composers and musicians. Ms. Dorsey also developed and conducted a mass choir which greatly enriched the entire experience.
In this time following Congress XII, it will be up to us to respond to those challenges that were laid out for us by the keynote speakers and the workshop presenters, and through the soon-to-be-completed Congress XII Pastoral Plan.
In his address to us, Pope Francis urges “that the Congress … confirm[s] America’s Black Catholics in their evangelical commitment to the pursuit of justice and human dignity, while encouraging a deeper reflection on our common baptismal calling to be missionary disciples, sent to the farthest reaches of society to draw hearts and souls to the transforming love of Christ the Savior.”
Again, my deepest thanks to everyone who made this event one which, I am confident, will be enshrined in our memory for years to come.
Very sincerely yours in Christ,
John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop Emeritus Pensacola Tallahassee
President, The National Black Catholic Congress
The mural artwork is available for use to NBCC affiliates, limited to not-for-profit use. Image must include the following copyright:
National Black Catholic Congress, Inc. © 2017
Opening Address by Cardinal Turkson at Congress XII
Video Recap of NBCC Congress XII
Congress XII Video Highlights
The Congress XII Mural
Mural designer and artist, Enzo Selvaggi and his family pictured standing next to Bishop Joseph Perry.
Congress XII Prayer Cards
You asked for the prayer cards that were included in the Congress XII conference bags, and we are happy to provide you with the PDF files and give permission for you to print and distribute them to others in your organizations, arch/dioceses, or parishes.
Mr. Bryan Stevenson, Esq., presented the keynote address titled, "Love Mercy and Do Justice: Confronting Mass Incarceration, Racial Bias and Poverty", at Congress XII. We have received many requests for more information about Mr. Stevenson and about the initiatives of his non-profit corporation, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).
The following article presents information about the critical work EJI is currently undertaking. Please go to the EJI website, https://eji.org/ for more information about these initiatives and how you can help.
Dedicated to improving the lives of Black Catholics across the United States
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From the President
of the NBCC
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With profound gratitude, I write to express my thanks to those who worked on behalf of, or those who came to be counted among, the attendees of the National Black Congress XII event which took place in Orlando, Florida from 6-9 July 2017.
This historical gathering of Black Catholics and those who minister within the African American Apostolate was an outstanding witness and affirmation of our Catholic faith and of our faith in each other. The response to the call to once more meet as a group of Black Catholics was heartwarming, and the response embodied through the presence of so many of you was overwhelming. I received many comments from attendees who expressed joy and gratitude at seeing so many present and had the satisfaction of hearing both their hopes and wishes, as well as their challenges and concerns, addressed and shared with many like minded brothers and sisters from all over the country.
I wish to express my personal thanks to the NBCC staff, especially Valerie Washington and Kimberley Hefner, as well as the dozens of volunteers who gave generously of their time and efforts for many months of discussion and planning to bring this event about. These included not only experts in music and liturgy from almost all parts of the United States, but also Ralph McCloud and Donna Grimes of the USCCB, who helped in the development of social policies and programs; Sr. Callista Robinson and Sr. Patricia Chappell, both offering their expertise in education; and Fr. Raymond Harris and Sr. Gwynette Proctor, who convened to help develop an agenda, which was by all measures, well received and welcomed. To all of them I am profoundly grateful.
I would like to highlight some numbers which illustrate the level of success which the participants enjoyed.
There were over 2000 registered participants. Of that number:
221 were youth, ages 14-17; 107 dioceses were represented;
Attendees included one cardinal, 18 bishops, four archbishops, 123 priests, 45 deacons, seven seminarians, seven religious brothers, and 41 religious sisters.
There were 26 workshops, including adult and youth tracks.
There were five retreats for different groups, including one for priests, one for religious women, one for laywomen, one for laymen, and one for deacons.
A separate track was held for youth, and was directed by Howard Roberts and emceed by Seminarian Kingsley Ogbuji.
The event was featured in reports by the Catholic News Service, and was subsequently picked up by most diocesan newspapers.
Enzo Selvaggi is a Californian artist and designer who led the team of artists that produced the mural of the Black Madonna placed in the Liturgy Room for the 2017 NBCC.
The mural is painted in the Beuronese style, and when Enzo was asked why he chose to do so, he replied, “The Beuronese style offers a special opportunity for sacred art in the New Evangelization because it proposes a universal compositional substructure of harmony, rhythm, and symmetry. Upon this substructure a fluid hieratic symbolism can be seamlessly grafted. That symbolism can take many forms, focusing on a particular doctrinal, historic, cultural, or ethnic perspective.” Enzo added, “The Beuronese style is named named after the Benedictine Abbey in Beuron, Germany and was developed by a monk, Desiderius Lentz, at the end of the 19th century.”
In the mural for the National Black Catholic Congress of 2017, a heavenly court of representative Black saints is the focus. Men and women of varied hue, tongue, nation and era are depicted as they worship the Christ child, Himself enthroned in the loving and nurturing embrace of the Blessed Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom. The words, “she took up the garments of joy” calls to mind the book of Judith, in that great song of praise for the redemption of the children of Israel -- proclaiming their freedom from the bonds of a cruel and powerful opressor.
Enzo also described the persons represented in the mural, aside from the Madonna, “as the depicted saints who come from divers states of life, many are canonized, some are blessed, and some are neither -- underscoring the universal call to holiness which the Church has communicated to her children since her founding, and reiterated emphatically by the Second Vatican Council.” Some notable persons would be: St. Charles Lwanga and Venerable Henriette Delille among those officially recognised by Rome. Daniel Rudd, Thea Bowman and Cyprian Davis help represent those who are well known for their holiness and contribution to the Church, but not yet officially.
Founder and Executive Director
of Equal Justice Initiative
About the artist and the concept for the mural
3. The development of the Congress website, (www.nbccongress.org) to assist with offering guidance and direction. Following a process that was developed before Congress XII, the NBCC will announce a series of webinars that will explore a wide variety of issues, especially those that were highlighted at Congress XII in Orlando. These webinars will be a forum for further discussion and development of the issues.
The topics may include the following:
Mass Incarceration. What does it mean? What are its effects on the Black community, the Black family and Black employment? What are some positive steps we can take at the local, state and national levels?
Domestic Violence. When and why does it happen? How can we prevent it from happening? What are its particular effects on Black family life? What response is best from individuals and parishes to address it? What steps can we take now?
Youth and Young Adults. Where are they as we look at Sunday Mass and parish activities? How can we develop more welcoming parishes?
Developing Black Spirituality. Beginning with the African American Catholic Youth Bible, we need to continue to explore the use of symbolic language and culture that directly affect the everyday lives of Black Catholics.
Social Justice. Why it is important to secure and preserve rights and responsibilities for people pushed to the margins. How can we advocate for issues that affect African American people in disproportionately adverse ways? What national issues are on the horizon that require our attention, i.e. voter suppression, housing, and education?
The Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Congress will begin to explore ways to offer consultation and support to this new and timely committee of the USCCB.
4. Offering a Series of Seminars and Workshops. These will be directed to the clergy, consecrated religious, and to the laity.
These are the steps that we will take at this time. We welcome your suggestions of any additional steps that should or could be taken. Please respond to this letter using the form below, or directly to the Congress office.
With every best wish, I am sincerely yours,
John H. Ricard
Bishop John H. Ricard, S.S.J.
President, The National Black Catholic Congress
The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me:
act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God.
Congress XII apparel and gifts still available!
Excerpt from the Priest's Prayer Service presented at Congress XII by
Most Reverend Gordon D. Bennett, S.J.
“Give me Jesus”
Most Reverend Gordon D. Bennett, S. J.
Bishop Emeritus of Mandeville
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 “If someone is in Christ, they are a new creation. What is old has passed away – look the new has come! Everything comes from God, who through Christ, reconciled us to himself, and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning their transgressions against them, and putting his message of reconciliation in us. So we are Christ’s ambassadors: (imagine) that God is pleading to the world through us.”
Dear Brothers and Fellow Ambassadors of Jesus Christ:
We all need to be grateful to Valerie Washington and to all the organizers of the congress for carving out this time in our busy agenda to place ourselves in prayer before the Lord. When Pope John Paul II wrote to the whole church at the beginning of the third millennium, he empathized that all pastoral planning, just what we are doing here, must come out of an atmosphere of prayer.
And today, most of the vocations which make up the body of Christ (bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, lay women and laymen, and, especially, our young people) are invited to pray together so that the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, will enlighten us on our way, and give us the courage to continue our pilgrimage in this pilgrim church.
As priests, you and are invited to reflect on the particular calling which has been formed in us by the Holy Spirit and confirmed publicly by the Church. How important it is for us to return quietly, honestly and courageously to our spiritual roots.
We begin begin our reflection with utmost humility, recalling that there were many persons, women and men, that Jesus encountered in the gospels who were more intelligent, more generous, more courageous, more gifted, better leaders and even holier than were the apostles. And yet, for his own reasons, Jesus chose those twelve with only one thing in mind: he wanted them to be “with him.” Brothers, you and I are the heirs to that invitation; and we need to acknowledge that even though we ourselves are “beset with weakness”, nevertheless, Jesus has called us to be “with him” in a particularly intimate way.
From the NBCC President,
Bishop John Ricard, SSJ
NBCC Post-Congress XII Focus
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I wish to express my gratitude to all of you for making the Congress XII event, “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God,” which occurred last month in Orlando, Florida, an overwhelmingly successful event.
From the seemingly insignificant details to those large events that defined the spirit of the gathering, I am confident that you will agree with me that Congress XII was affirming, rewarding and timely.
However, since Congress XII, we have witnessed events in Charlottesville, Virginia and other parts of the country. We have witnessed the response of the leadership of our country to these events. It is very clear that it is incumbent on us to take those steps that we dared dream about and envisioned during Congress XII. We must implement and realize this vision of Congress in our Church and society, which was given to us by Christ in His Gospel. The vision of a Church and community which is open to all and to which all are affirmed.
Having listened carefully to the attendees’ responses and the calls for leadership, as well as continued discussions about a meaningful follow-up to the vision of Orlando, we are laying out some of the steps that we will be taking in the days and months ahead.
1. The development of the Pastoral Plan of Action: We ask that you be attentive to the development of the Pastoral Plan of Action, and conscientiously study and apply its guidelines as they apply to your homes, parishes, dioceses, and organizations as appropriate. As you know, this document is currently being prepared by a committee formed during Congress XII and will be made available soon. Any comments or suggestions regarding the Pastoral Plan of Action can be emailed to Fr. Stephen Thorne at email@example.com. To read the Preamble to the Pastoral Plan of Action, go to: http://bit.ly/2iCxoiO.
2. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism, which is being developed and presented to them at their November 2018 meeting. We can provide support to this important and long anticipated message by taking the initiative to read and reflect upon it, and then by engaging in the efforts to implement its vision (to be outlined in its study guide).