WHEN BLACK CATHOLICS MEET THIS SUMMER in Chicago for their ninth National Black Catholic Congress, they will reflect on the heart of Jesus' mission of the kingdom of God. The Second Vatican Council underscored that the very reason for the church s existence is to be a universal sacrament and an instrument of the communion of human beings with God and with one another.
Though it is common to speak of our living today in a global reality, all too often we do so with "eyes that see but see not and ears that hear and hear not" (Matt. 13:15-17). Many of us are inattentive to the life conditions, history, culture, literature, art, and religious traditions of our brothers and sisters who live in Asia, central and southeastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Not only are we blind to our global neighbors, we are often inattentive or indifferent to our own next-door neighbor as well. Native-born African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans who are citizens of the United States, along with recent immigrants, often remain a mystery to the European American majority as well as to one another.
Within the U.S. Catholic Church, the presence, history, and contributions of black Catholics receive only minimal reference in recently published histories and sociological research on Catholicism. While the U.S. bishops in recent years have sponsored several national gatherings to celebrate the church's cultural diversity, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics are unaware of this phenomenon.
Despite the historical and statistical invisibility, devaluation, and marginalization within the general U.S. Catholic population, black Catholics over the past four decades have organized several effective new national associations to strengthen black Catholic ministry. They include caucuses, conferences, and organizations of black clergy, women religious, seminarians, administrators, theologians, and laity as well as the National Office of Black Catholics and the National Black Catholic Congress.
These organizations continue a tradition of spirit-rooted creativity initiated in the 19th century by the founding of two orders of black women religious--the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of the Holy Family--and the lay initiatives of the "Colored Catholic Congresses" and the Federated Colored …