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National Black Catholic Congress: A fruitful time of validation and vision

By Kateri Joda Williams
Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry

There is an African proverb that states, “God is always speaking somewhere; we must go to that place and listen.” For me, accompanied by 13 delegates from the Archdiocese of Denver, that place was the 13th National Black Catholic Congress held last month in National Harbor, Md. There, we had the blessed occasion to listen, pray and work in unity with roughly 3,000 Black Catholics from over 80 dioceses across the United States.

It was surreal. With the Holy Spirit in our midst, the exhilaration was palpable.

We were overwhelmed with emotions, feelings of immense joy, pride and privilege. Surrounded by Black Catholic clergy, religious and laypersons sharing faith and culture, we were inspired and transformed by our sacred commitment to our work to advance the universal Church as a people of hope and vision. For four days, we immersed ourselves in an itinerary that included daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, praise and worship, plenary sessions, workshops, the sacrament of reconciliation and a “No Child Hungry” meal packaging service project. The liturgy and music ministry were vibrant!

As a cradle catholic, I was struck by feelings of affirmation and validation that I didn’t realize were lacking. There is such peace and power when praying in an environment where one is seen and fully accepted without scrutiny; loved as brothers and sisters in Christ, all made in the image and likeness of our one God. A family reunion of sorts, the Congress was a multi-generational event with both an adult and youth track program, and I was encouraged by the level of youth engagement.

Such a moment occurred during the closing Mass when the bishops invited anyone who was discerning the priesthood or religious life to come forth for a special blessing. In response, several youth and young adults approached the altar accompanied by a standing ovation, tears of joy, and thunderous applause.

The theme for Congress XIII, “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive,” based on Habakkuk 2:2-4, provides the impetus for us to discern God’s vision for the pastoral plan that shall be developed and implemented for the next five years until Congress convenes again. Encounter, formation and action are the elements that dominate the Congress movement. Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington and the first Cardinal of African American heritage conveyed Pope Francis’ personal message that the “Black Catholic community is vitally important to the church.” Now the work begins to share that message and the work of the pastoral plan with the Archdiocese of Denver at large.

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Later this month, the archdiocesan delegation will meet for an all-day debrief session to prayerfully discern the fruits gathered from the Congress and where Spirit is guiding us in the development of a preliminary strategy to disseminate information and resources gathered. In November, the National Black Catholic Congress will make available the official pastoral plan in time for Black Catholic History Month.

Above all, the vision for God’s church is unity on earth as it is in heaven. On behalf of the delegation, I thank you for your prayers and look forward to continuing to share the Good News!

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