African-American Catholics Celebrate the Joy of the Gospel

12th National Black Catholic Congress explored the theme of missionary discipleship and the joy of the Gospel.

Religious sisters, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and 2,000 others participated in 12th National Black Catholic Congress.
Religious sisters, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and 2,000 others participated in 12th National Black Catholic Congress. (photo: Nancy Jo Davis, 106Foto)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Days after the conclusion of the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders,” Catholic delegations from around the U.S. also gathered in Orlando for the 12th National Black Catholic Congress to discuss their own mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ through the gift of the African-American patrimony and experience.

Held July 6-9, the congress brought together approximately 2,000 mainly African-American Catholic leaders to strengthen them in evangelizing their churches and communities, following a pastoral plan of action for the next five years.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who heads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, spoke at the Congress, meditating on its theme: “The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me: Act Justly, Love Goodness, and Walk Humbly With Your God.”

Cardinal Turkson told the Register that the theme comes from two different Old Testament prophets, Isaiah and Micah. He wanted to draw out for participants what these passages meant for Jesus Christ and for Catholics today.

“Everything about Jesus was led in the power of the Spirit,” he said.

The cardinal said Jesus’ justice was about mending relationships “between us and the Father, among ourselves, and between ourselves and creation, the world we live in.”

Cardinal Turkson explained that the Holy Spirit enables Catholics to respond to the call of discipleship because he “puts to death the works of the flesh and frees us to live our life in Christ.”

“All of us have a call to discipleship, and we respond to this call from our different experiences in life,” he said, where Christian men and women make Jesus the “everything of our lives.”


Sharing Experiences

Over the course of the congress, delegates could choose to listen to speakers from a variety of tracks that covered topics like pro-life ministry, putting into action the Church’s teaching on a just society, strengthening marriage and confronting domestic violence, and the rich wisdom and heritage of African-American Catholics.

Lynn Squires, board president of the St. Charles Lwanga Center and a delegate with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, also presented on the best practices the archdiocese learned from its experience of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

“We always start out with prayer, followed by immediate action,” she said, giving Archbishop Robert Carlson high marks for leading by example. She said the archdiocese established prayer sessions, a Peace and Justice Commission, brought in new scholarships for residents of Ferguson and affected areas, and brought African-American communities and archdiocesan leadership into closer communication.

Squires said their surveys showed African-American satisfaction with the Church jumped 16.8%. “We definitely think things are better, without a doubt.”

Francisco and Yvonne Thorne came to Orlando with a delegation from the Diocese of Rochester, New York, and told the Register this was the first congress they attended as representatives of St. Marianne Cope parish.

“Everyone was just blessed, highly favored by the Lord,” Francisco said. While the vast majority of participants were African-American, he said the Congress had parishioners of other ethnicities participate, as well — “Color didn’t matter.”

Yvonne said she networked with other congress participants so they could encourage each other and talk about how they can bring the congress’ pastoral priorities to their parishes and dioceses.


Priorities for Action

The congress concluded with a commitment for priorities for action until the 13th congress in 2022. The priorities included a commitment to embrace their baptismal calling as “authentically black and truly Catholic,” seeking leadership in the Church at all levels, and promoting the canonization of the holy African-American men and women being considered for sainthood: Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Venerable Mother Henriette Delille, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, and Servant of God Julia Greeley.

The statement also said they would commit themselves to act with justice by living with closeness to those who suffer and are neglected and by promoting “the dignity and life of everyone” from the womb to natural death. Delegates committed themselves to “dismantle racism in all forms, which is an obstacle to justice and evangelization,” and to address “the challenges of mental illness, mass incarceration, domestic violence and others.”

Delegates also expressed their commitment to evangelize, aligning their vision with the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” to be “missionary disciples” by spreading the joy of the Gospel. The delegates committed to spread the faith through creative means, support Catholic schools, listen to the needs of youth, and affirm the universal call to holiness in marriage, single and consecrated life.

Gloria Purvis, co-host of EWTN’s Morning Glory program, told the Register that she saw a desire “for a deeper encounter with Jesus” link between the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” she just attended and the National Black Catholic Congress.

“It seems people are hungering for truth, beauty and goodness,” she said. “And their hearts are set on it.”


Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.