By Ruby Thomas, Special to The Record
Dominican Father Reginald Whitt, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, Minn., gave the keynote address to a crowd of more than 430 participants at the Second Archdiocesan Black Catholic Congress held Dec. 1 at the Flaget Center in Louisville, reminding them that theirs is a significant and meaningful history, and he urged them to be proud of their Catholic faith.
“The very fact that we assemble at a congress like this tells us that black Catholics are heirs to a precious legacy,” he said.
Father Whitt reminded those present that many of the issues which led Daniel Rudd, a Bardstown, Ky., native, to convene the first national black congress in the 1800’s persist today. Among them was the lack of Catholic education for blacks.
Rudd instructed those pioneers that the first long-ago congress was to be more than a symbolic event. They were to “take up the cause of the race” and unite on a course of action, Father Whitt explained. It was in this spirit that Father Whitt urged those present on Saturday to also take action. He questioned the reason many young black Catholics are ignorant of their religion and challenged older parishioners to teach their religious history to the youth of the church today.
Debra Wade, a member of Christ the King Church who attended the congress, said she believes getting involved and working to get more black children into Catholic schools is part of the solution.
“I am a member on the region one Catholic coalition and part of the issue we’ve been dealing with is sending African American kids to Catholic schools. We are working to get the information to parents, so they will have all the tools necessary to send their kids to a Catholic school,” she said.
The 1889 congress was also designed to dispel the sentiment that there was something strange about being black and Catholic, Father Whitt noted.
“Daniel Rudd argued that a large number of black Catholics gathered at congress with the blessing of the church will show black Protestants that being Catholic and black was not an anomaly,” explained Father Whitt. He told this gathering on Saturday that being Catholic was a natural thing.
“The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Africans were in the crowd to hear Saint Peter’s first preaching on Pentecost day,” said Father Whitt. Most importantly, he reminded them “our church is the one built on the apostles lead by St. Peter, the rock on which Jesus Christ said he would build.
“Ours is the holy church of the seven sacraments. Christ himself established those wonderful instruments to give us sanctifying grace; to give us divine help; to strengthen us so we can walk the narrow path in this life so as to reign with him in the next one,” said Father Whitt.
“Though I’ve been exposed to other religions and to other ways of thinking of God, I can’t think of being anything other than Catholic,” said Wade.
This year, following the lead of Daniel Rudd and other pioneers of the faith, the National Black Catholic Congress XI took place July 19 to 21 in Indianapolis.