‘Act justly, love goodness’: Black Catholics in America

Retired Bishop Gordon D. Bennett of Mandeville, Jamaica, poses for a photo with an attendees of the 12th National Black Catholic Congress on July 9 in Orlando. (CNS/courtesy Nancy Jo Davis, National Black Catholic Congress)Retired Bishop Gordon D. Bennett of Mandeville, Jamaica, poses for a photo with an attendees of the 12th National Black Catholic Congress on July 9 in Orlando. (CNS/courtesy Nancy Jo Davis, National Black Catholic Congress)

The Catholic Church in the United States boasts 71 million members, 2.9 million of whom are black. Representatives from that vibrant community met in Orlando in July for the National Black Catholic Congress. The series of talks, workshops and liturgical celebrations examining issues facing black Catholics has been held every five years since 1987. The event concluded with the prophet Micah’s call to “act justly, love goodness and walk humbly with your God.”

Surveys indicate that black Catholics have high degrees of involvement with their parishes.

“We have to work together to get closer to God and to get closer to each other,” says Tonya Dorsey, a speaker at the Congress and the minister of music at St. Martin de Porres in Philadelphia. “Once we treat each other with respect and dignity, people will be drawn to us.”

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One “pastoral priority” that emerged from the Congress was to “dismantle racism in all forms.” That appeal followed discussion of the Black Lives Matter campaign, which prompted Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III of New Orleans to apologize to young black Catholics for abandoning the movement. “Partly, I didn’t understand it, and by the time I did understand it, it was too late,” Bishop Cheri said, responding to a frank dialogue on dissatisfaction with the church’s handling of racial issues.

Part of the solution, suggests Ms. Dorsey, involves listening more to younger voices. “We’ve got to be open to our youth....They really want to be a part of the whole life of the church.”

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