By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
African-American Catholics who gathered Nov. 3 to reflect upon and celebrate their roots were called to do small things that will make their community prosper.
The 33rd annual African American Catholic Day of Reflection and the 32nd annual African American Catholic History Celebration — held at the Catholic Enrichment Center on West Broadway — drew about 200 people under the theme “From Maintenance to Mission.” The event was organized by the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Multicultural Ministry (OMM).
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz presided at the opening Mass, which was filled with the sounds of African drumming, music and liturgical dance.
“Today we remember the depth of Catholic history in the African American community. We remember your parents, grandparents, Daniel Rudd,” said the archbishop, referring to the Bardstown, Ky., native who was born a slave in 1854 and later founded the National Black Catholic Congress.
During the liturgy, Archbishop Kurtz pledged his support for the new African American Catholic pastoral plan, which was presented to him by M. Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of OMM.
The five-year plan was crafted from discussions at the 12th National Black Catholic Congress which took place in 2017.
The archbishop prayed that each person present, including the young people, would also pledge their support.
“We need each of you to understand this plan and be a part of it,” Archbishop Kurtz said, speaking directly to a group of young people.
Father Maurice Emelu — a priest of the Diocese of Orlu in Nigeria who delivered the homily — also urged those who’d gathered to play their part in uplifting the black community. Father Emelu, an adjunct lecturer at John Carroll University in Ohio, served as the day’s keynote speaker.
“My job is to inspire you to be in service of Christ in those little things that are incredibly impactful in the mission Christ has set for us,” said Father Emelu.
He challenged the congregation to do more for their community.
“We love our community so much, yet we do so little for it. We wait for others to do it for us when we can do it for ourselves,” said Father Emelu. “Some people put so little into the mission they love so much.”
He called attention to the story of the widow’s offering from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 21, where the widow gives two coppers — all she had.
“God wants us to sacrifice because we love the mission and the faith,” said Father Emelu. “Who has the gifts and talents? Who is that person that can do all those little things that can make the African American community prosper? That person is you.”
Mandley-Turner said Father Emelu’s charge to the black community to work for the change they want to see, resonated with her.
She noted that during the National Black Catholic Congress last year, many people asked if there is a solution to the declining presence of black people in Catholic churches. She came to the realization, she said, that the numbers weren’t declining, but people were not “engaged.”
Many in the black community, noted Mandley-Turner, are “maintaining” instead of living a life of mission.
“When you are maintaining, you’re treading water. They appear to be in a state of survival,” said Mandley-Turner. “You can only do so much when you’re trying to survive. Mission drives us out.”
The African American Catholic Pastoral Plan will be an aid in helping blacks “get busy and start doing for ourselves,” she said.