Delegates to National Black Catholic Congress XIII gather to pray, prepare

Cecily Lewis, right, and her teenage son Chaz Lewis, two of the delegates for the National Black Catholic Congress XIII, bowed their heads in prayer at the start of a meeting June 24 at the Catholic Enrichment Center on West Broadway. The gathering was one of two meetings aimed at preparing delegates for the congress scheduled for July 20-23 in Maryland. (Photo by Ruby Thomas)

A delegation that includes Archdiocese of Louisville parishioners and members of the clergy has been meeting to pray and prepare for the National Black Catholic Congress XIII scheduled for July 20-23 in National Harbor, Md.

The delegation of 30 — some of whom have attended a past congress and others for whom this will be their first experience — includes adults, youth and members of the clergy.

Cecily Lewis, a parishioner of St. Martin de Porres Church, and her 14-year-old son Chaz Lewis are part of the group preparing for the trip.

Cecily Lewis said she was a teenager the last time she attended one of the congresses, but she remembers it as a “foundational” experience in her faith journey. Now as a mother of two boys, she wants her son to have that experience too, she said. 

“As a parent, you want to make sure your kids are on the right path. You want to make sure God is at the center and that you’re instilling these values in them,” Cecily Lewis said. Gatherings such as the National Black Catholic Congress, for her, are “foundational” events that help to keep young people “grounded” in their faith and identity as Black Catholics. 

Taking her teenage son to congress is important, she noted. Though they attend a mostly African American parish, “for him to experience such a large gathering of African American Catholics will be an opportunity to assist in building that foundation,” she said. “He’ll see that he’s not one of a few, but one of many.” 

Chaz Lewis said he’s looking forward to his first congress. 

“I want to meet new people and expand my knowledge on things” including his faith and his African American heritage.

The national event, which takes place every five years, has its roots in the Archdiocese of Louisville. 

Daniel Rudd, a Bardstown, Ky., native, born a slave in 1854, was the founder of the National Black Catholic Congress. In 1888, he proposed that Black Catholics hold a general congress. In 1889, Rudd convened the first congress in Washington, D.C. 

The event coming up in July will mark 36 years since the congress began meeting again in 1987. It will take place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center under the theme “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive” with the goal of creating a pastoral plan addressing issues affecting Black Catholic communities, said M. Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry.

At least 3,500 people are expected, she said. The congress will include dozens of workshops addressing Rudd’s concerns for Black Catholics — education, vocation, leadership, social justice, evangelization and family life, she noted. There will also be opening and closing liturgies and a keynote address by Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., during the opening plenary session July 21.

Camille Weathers Woods, a parishioner of Christ the King Church, is one of the delegates. Weathers Woods has attended congresses in the past. Worshipping with such a large gathering of Black Catholics was impactful and she is looking forward to that again, she said. 

“It manifested itself physically for me when I turned around and saw all that Black clergy. I’d never had that kind of exposure. For me to see that as an adult was overwhelming. It brought me to tears,” said Weathers Woods about her first experience at a congress. “Anytime we can come together in community for a higher purpose as Black people, especially when it comes to our Lord and Savior, I’m here for it.”  

Weathers Woods added that the congress experience helps to underscore that African Americans “serve an important role in the history of the Black Catholics.”

Mandley-Turner said she’s hopeful that the experience will change participants and impact how they serve the church. 

“It’ll give people what they need to be fully engaged in the church,” she said. “ … I hope they’ll leave with a holistic view on outreach to Black Catholics. … I hope they’ll take Rudd’s vision for education, evangelization and social justice and breathe a sense of life into it.”  

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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