The statistics are frightening. In its November 2005 Surveillance Summaries, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control stated that “the abortion rate for black women has been approximately three times as high as that for white women.”
Blacks make up about 12% of the U.S. population. But even the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm, admits black women have 32% of the abortions.
“The abortion rate among black women remains more than twice the national average,” notes a statement on the organization’s website, “and three times that of white women.”
Here’s the math: Of the approximately 1.3 million abortions in the United States annually, black women have more than 415,000.
“We want people to be informed about the impact of abortion on the black community and to be more aggressive in taking a stand against it,” says Beverly Carroll, director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for African-American Catholics.
Enter the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life. For the fourth year in a row, the apostolate has designated June “Abortion and All Acts of Violence Awareness Month.”
“I couldn’t think of a better month than the month of the Sacred Heart,” says Franciscan Father James Goode, founder-president of the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life.
He points out the awareness month also comes shortly after Easter and Pentecost, begins between Mother’s and Father’s Day, includes the feast of St. Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan martyrs (June 5), and places itself under the protection of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts (June 23 and 24, respectively).
“We’re taking our marching orders from our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, who told us to go forth and make something happen — to go out boldly and defend life,” says Father Goode.
He already envisions success through the Sacred Heart. Hence the 2006 theme: “Jesus Giver of Life, Make Us a People for Life.”
This National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life began when Father Goode was president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus when it decided to champion the gospel of life from the pulpit.
“With so many abortions and so many acts of violence,” he says, “we had to boldly proclaim this message of life.” That also meant getting national support from the black Catholic sisters, deacons and major organizations to work collectively to reach people with John Paul II’s 1995 encycical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).
In 1997 the caucus launched the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life with blessings and support from the late Cardinal John O’Connor. Today Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis is the group’s episcopal adviser.
Four years ago, the apostolate launched the June awareness month. It has grown in popularity every year since. This March, the apostolate’s website — blackcatholicsforlife.org — received a record number of hits as people sought out materials to launch the awareness program in parishes and neighborhoods.
Once the printable material went up, in just the first two weeks, some 2,000 visitors viewed the website. “Father Goode’s efforts are really our voice into the African-American community with life issues,” says Carroll.
And they’re paying off. The founder-president says people are embracing the mission. He sees the impact nationally, as, for example, the Knights of Peter Claver (knightsofpeterclaver.com) mentioning the work in all their councils — and locally, as, for example, black families telling him they intend to speak with their children about the sanctity of life.
Redemptorist Father Glenn Parker, a board member of the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life, says the awareness mission will be spread at family festivals, church trips, neighborhood gatherings and in everyday life — and not just in June.
“It’s a year-’round thing,” says Father Parker. “If you always bring in life issues, there’s consistency, and you help people see that. They get fed throughout the year with reminders that all life is sacred.”
“We live in a sound bite society,” adds Father Parker. “You say the message over and over again,” he says, referring to this year’s theme (Jesus Giver of Life, Make Us a People for Life) and “people start meditating on those words.”
Last year at St. John the Evangelist in Hapeville, Ga., where he was a parish priest, the children at school Masses would hear the dignity-of-life message, seeing when they’re kind to someone they’re like God, he says.
Father Parker also stresses the mission’s proclamation that any action against the human dignity of a person is violent — be it abortion or capital punishment. Therese Wilson Favors, director of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s office of African-American Catholic ministries, agrees.
“We’re asking our pastors to lift up the sacredness of life full circle, from the womb to the grave,” she says. “We’re talking the full garment. We’re also asking all our parishes to rededicate themselves to work as peacemakers to break the cycle of violence.”
Far and Wide
Favors’ office is asking pastors to preach about this every Sunday in June and have people rededicate themselves to peacefully stand against violence. The office encourages and provides a commissioning service for the end of Mass.
“Witnessing to our children in the supermarket, through our relationships and even in the way we drive promotes positive results,” she says.
Last year at St. Gregory the Great Church in Baltimore, which used the commissioning service, parishioners got together with other churches to pray at the door of a neighborhood elder who was murdered. As a result, the churches banded together for a neighborhood watch as a way for good people to address violence.
Carroll sees this developing campaign as “holistic.” “That’s why we like Father Goode’s approach: Everybody can play a role,” she says. “Even in home they can pray a Rosary for a stronger support and appreciation for life.” Here she’s referring to the apostolate’s Black Catholic Rosary Across America for Life.
The awareness campaign will include evangelization, too. Father Goode says people will be invited to become Catholic. And, because the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is on June 27, he notes that the awareness mission is another way of helping people to choose life and to pray.
“This whole summer, we will be proclaiming for African-Americans to choose life and then commissioning them as Black Catholics to help others choose life,” says Father Goode. “It’s exciting, like the early Church, as we take this message far and wide.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from