Black Catholic Congress builds on history

Angela Billups, at right, a 12-year old student at Meyers Middle School, and her friend Francesca Hardin, 10, who attends Foster Academy, were among the young people in the crowd of more than 430 who attended the Dec. 1 archdiocesan Black Catholic Congress. Both Angela and Francesca attend Christ the King Church. (Record Photo by Glenn Rutherford)

Angela Billups, at right, a 12-year old student at Meyers Middle School, and her friend Francesca Hardin, 10, who attends Foster Academy, were among the young people in the crowd of more than 430 who attended the Dec. 1 archdiocesan Black Catholic Congress. Both Angela and Francesca attend Christ the King Church. (Record Photo by Glenn Rutherford)

By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

It’s not just that more than 430 people showed up Dec. 1 for the second Archdiocesan Black Catholic Congress.

It’s not that they spent the day-long program hearing from the likes of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Dominican Father Reginald Whitt, local African American Catholic leaders and representatives of the Diocese of Cleveland’s Young Adult Ministry Team. (Read more about Dominican Father Whitt.)

It’s that many of the people who came to the Flaget Center, both young and old, recognized the significance not only of the event, but of their history as
African American Catholics.

Father Ben Brown, one of a half-dozen priests who took part in the event, which was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Ministry, remembered the early days of his ministry when he served as a deacon at Christ the King Church in Louisville’s West End.

“Christ the King, back in the 70s, served as a model of an integrated church for the entire country,” he said before the start of last Saturday’s congress. “And the experience I had there was wonderful and eye-opening for me. I came to realize that the faith of black Catholics went back as far in the history of this archdiocese as mine did. Their faith and their history goes back to the very heart of our archdiocese, to Daniel Rudd.”

Rudd was born in 1854 near Bardstown, Ky., — his parents were both slaves on estates in the area — and he went on to found the National Black Catholic Congress. In fact, at the first congress in 1889, Mass was celebrated by the first recognized African American priest in the United States, Father Augustine Tolton, who, Father Brown noted, though born in Missouri has historic links to the Archdiocese of Louisville.

“His parents were both slaves in Meade County,” said Father Brown, now chaplain at St. Catharine College in Springfield, Ky., and sacramental moderator of Holy Rosary Church in Springfield, “so although he was born in Missouri, his parents met here, so he’s tied to our history.”

Archbishop Kurtz gave the homily at the Mass that opened the Dec. 1 Congress, and in it he noted that “there’s not a person here today who has not been called to be a new evangelist for Jesus Christ.”

The archbishop related the story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at a well, and how that encounter changed her life forever.

“She could not keep from sharing the word of Jesus with people she met from then on,” he said. “She was like a glass filled with water — it can’t help but spill over the sides when it becomes full. That’s what today is meant to be about. The word of Jesus is pouring into us, and we can’t keep from overflowing.”

While lauding the history of African American Catholics in the archdiocese, Archbishop Kurtz also took note of the young people present among the more than 430 attending the congress.

“You’re not just the future, you are the present of the church,” he told the several dozen young people in the crowd before him.

The archbishop also noted the Lord’s call to spread the word “two by two.”

“When we’re trying to be evangelizers on our own, we’re not nearly as effective as when we’re working together with someone,” he noted. “We need to share the work of Christ, to work together to celebrate and strengthen the church. When you leave today, you need to be stronger; you need to feel that together, all things are possible because of God’s grace.

“Is there someone out there waiting for you to invite them to come back to the Lord?” he asked. “You bet there is.”

Loueva Moss, who is director of religious education at Christ the King Church, recalled the first local Black Catholic Congress held in 1985.

“It’s important to realize how we have evolved, how we have grown and come to know the gifts of our church,” she said. “But we also need to realize that we have an obligation to our faith, to recognize we’re standing on the shoulders of those who’ve brought us this far.”

People at an event such as this year’s congress “need to realize they not only have talents to share, but an obligation to share them,” she added.

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