Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Civil Writer

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Civil Writer

Article excerpt

I HAVE BEEN A CHRISTIAN FOR 35 YEARS, FIRST as a Baptist and now as a Roman Catholic convert. I grew up in the Baptist church and loved its preaching, gospel singing, and Bible study. My church, however, was plagued by that common and unspoken ecclesial affliction--de facto segregation. Despite the Bible's claim that our oneness in Christ supersedes race, class, and language, churches are still the most segregated institutions in the United States, not by law but by choice. A 2006 study indicated that in the vast majority of churches, more than 80 percent of the parishioners are of the same race.

Yet over 100 years ago, black Catholic journalist and layperson Daniel Rudd boldly showed us another way. His vision, perseverance, and courage inspire me to work for a church beyond the homogenous parishes we have created. He demanded that white Catholics open the doors to blacks, and he encouraged blacks to seek the welcoming arms of the church. Rudd did not end there, however, for he believed that black Catholics, once nurtured in the church, were to become a vanguard to uplift all of black America. Those two thoughts guide both my theology and practice.

RUDD WAS BORN IN BARDSTOWN, KENTUCKY ON AUGUST 7, 1854 to Catholic former slaves, and his ministry began a mere 20 years after slavery. While Christianity was powerless against the rising tide of white supremacy, causing many denominations to split over race, Rudd rose above this pitiful Christian testimony to proclaim that the Catholic Church welcomed African Americans. Rudd began publishing the first black Catholic weekly, the American Catholic Tribune, in 1886 to share his message even though black literacy was low.

Daniel Rudd's paper, however, was but a precursor to his larger vision. In 1889, after traveling the country to preach to black Catholics, his efforts culminated in the first ever National Black Catholic Congress, held in Washington, D.C.

"Gather them [black Catholics] and let them exchange views on questions affecting their race," Rudd said a year before the conference. "Then uniting on a course of action, behind which would stand the majestic church of Christ, they must inevitably become ... the bearer of their race."

This July black laypeople, priests, teachers, and theologians will gather at the 10th National Black Catholic Congress, which has met every five years since 1987 to expand upon Rudd's pioneering work. Attendees return to their parishes energized and empowered to educate and tutor black youth, evangelize their community, enhance black liturgies, and take on other work. As it did in Rudd's day, the congress inspires black leaders with a renewed sense of what it means to be black and Catholic.

This question of what it means to be black and Catholic informs my self-understanding and entire ministry. …

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