Local Catholics say they were inspired by National Black Catholic Congress

A group of African American youth bowed their heads as Bishop Edward Roy Campbell, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, blessed their rosaries at the National Black Catholic Congress XIII in National Harbor, Md. (Photo Special to The Record by the National Black Catholic Congress)

Catholics from the Archdiocese of Louisville who attended the National Black Catholic Congress XIII said they feel inspired and strengthened to continue growing in their faith.  

More than 3,000 people attended the congress held July 20-23 in National Harbor, Md. The national event is celebrated every five years.

The Archdiocese of Louisville delegation of 41 Catholics included young people, and more than half of the delegates attended the congress for the first time.

Subrenia Lain, a member of St. Augustine Church, was one of 24 first-time attendees from the area.

“It was the most spiritual and charismatic experience I’ve ever had,” said Lain during a recent interview.

From everything she saw and heard, including special liturgies and workshops, what moved her the most, she said, was a moment shared between Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune of the Diocese of Charleston and dozens of young people. The bishop celebrated Mass on July 22 and, following his homily, invited young people to come forward. 

“He made an appeal for the elders of the church to reach out to the youth,”  said Lain. And he addressed the young people. “He told them to ‘become active in your church and claim responsibility for your continued involvement and if someone tells you no ask why.’ We’re living in a day and time when our youth want to leave.”

Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, of the Diocese of Charleston, spoke to dozens of young people. During a Mass celebrated July 22, the second day of the National Black Catholic Congress XIII in National Harbor, Md. (Photo Special to The Record by the National Black Catholic Congress)

Though Bishop Fabre-Jeune was speaking to the youth, Lain said, his message resonated with her. She’d left the church years ago and had recently contemplated leaving again because she felt Black Catholics were “fighting the same old battles,” she said. 

Through the Office of Multicultural Ministry, she said she started learning about the history of Black Catholics and that grounded her. She learned she shouldn’t “run from the church where our ancestors fought to stay,” she said. 

Her experience at the congress has reinforced that belief and has strengthened her to remain in the church, she added. “I intend to mature more in my faith and share the (congress) experience.”

Lain said she was also surprised by the diversity of the congress. Though the participants were predominantly African American, Lain said she saw people of Asian, East Indian, Hispanic and European descent. 

“I never thought we’d get this far, taking into consideration we started with Daniel Rudd,” she said. Rudd was born into slavery in 1854 in Bardstown, Ky. He went on to become a civil rights leader and prominent journalist and founded the National Black Catholic Congress. 

Lain said she has African American friends who remember sitting in the back of the church and being the last to receive communion. 

“Look how far we’ve come,” she said. 

Elaine Richardson, a member of St. Ignatius Martyr Church, also attended the national event.

Richardson said she was invited by her sister, a member of St. Peter Claver Church in the Diocese of Lexington. Traveling aboard a bus with members of the delegation and Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, she said she didn’t know what to expect when she arrived in Maryland. 

“It was overwhelming,” said Richardson, who noted that prior to the congress she was not connected to the Black Catholic community. “It was very powerful. It was a spiritual awakening and getting back to my religious roots.”

The experience made her realize that she needs to go deeper into her faith. It also strengthened her to evangelize, she said. She has plans to speak to the parish council about her experience.

It’s an experience, “I will be speaking about for the rest of my life,” Richardson said. 

M. Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, said that following the challenges of the past several years — the pandemic and racial strife in the city — people needed hope.

Young people from the Archdiocese of Louisville attended the National Black Catholic Congress July 20-23 in National Harbor, Md. They were part of a 41-person delegation from the area. (Photo Special to The Record)

And they returned from Maryland hopeful, she said, noting that several individuals have reached out wanting to connect and talk about their experience. 

That will come in a more formal way in December at the African American Day of Reflection, she said. Members of the archdiocese’s delegation will gather with members of the delegation from the Diocese of Lexington at that event. They will re-read and update the African American Catholic Five-Year Pastoral Plan of Action, said Mandley-Turner.

She said she expects the congress experience to bear many fruits.

“We’ll see more people involved in archdiocesan events,” not just those sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Ministry, but archdiocesan-wide events, she said. 

The delegates understand, “When we’re not there we’re not included. When we’re not there, we’re not part of the whole church,” she said. “When people come, there’s a vested interest and when there’s a vested interest, people tend to ask questions about why things are the way they are.”

Members of the delegation attended workshops on a variety of topics, including evangelization, leadership, worship and social justice.

Delegates heard that they should constantly address questions of injustice and that “ ‘Enough is enough’ should be every day,” said Mandley-Turner. “They need to help the church address issues of violence, drug addiction and lack of access to education because we are the victims of some of it.”

Her experience at the congress also revealed that more needs to be done to bring Black people of different cultures into the church, she said. She encountered people of Brazilian nationality and people of African descent at the congress, she said. 

“We need to find a way for Blacks to feel more engaged in the church,” she said. “Our office needs to be more assertive in engaging all of the Black people into the life of the church.”

Father William Bowling, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church, far right, clapped as he processed at one of the various liturgies celebrated during the National Black Catholic Congress July 20-23 in National Harbor, Md. (Photo Special to The Record)

Father William Bowling, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church — one of the four predominantly African American parishes in the archdiocese — also noted that Black Catholics of different cultures should be considered in the upcoming pastoral planning process.

After attending the congress, he said he’s looking forward to being a part of that planning, noting his role will be one of listening and supporting. 

“Having a set of fresh eyes can be helpful and I suppose that’s the role I might play in the planning,” he said. 

The congress was also helpful to his ministry, he said. 

“I’ve just completed one year at St. Martin de Porres, serving as pastor,” he said. “I thought it was timely and helpful in getting a much broader context. Being able to experience the liturgies, music and repertoire was important and helped to connect some things for me with the music and culture.”

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