The National Black Catholic Congress July 18, 2023

According to Pew Research, there are currently around 3 million Black Catholics in the United States. This makes up about 4% of American Catholics. The history of Black Catholics in the U.S. uncovers challenges and bold faithfulness.

Daniel Rudd, a Black journalist deeply committed to the Catholic Church, claimed the Church was a place of hope for Black people. Rudd’s vision and faithfulness birthed the first Black Catholic Congress in 1889.

The Black Catholic Congress was held annually for five years, addressing important issues to the lives of Black Catholics. More than 5,000 people attended the closing Mass in 1894.

Over the years, our Black brothers and sisters faithfully sought to embrace the Catholic Church. Yet, the Church did not often reciprocate the embrace. Embroiled in the racial polarized reality of the day, Black Catholics seldom saw themselves represented in the priests, leaders, music, art, or ritual of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

The National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC) was re-established in 1985 as a coalition of Black Catholic organizations. In 1987 the first renewed congress took place in Washington, D.C., gathering Black Catholics from across the country. Since then, every five years the NBCC holds a national congress attracting a growing number of attendees and developing a Pastoral Plan.

This week, July 20-23, 2023, Father Daniel Griffith joins eleven Basilica parishioners at the National Black Catholic Congress XIII held in Maryland.

Basilica parishioner Mary Syfax Noble shares:

Six years ago I had the privilege of attending the National Black Catholic Congress. Not knowing what to expect in attending the Congress, I decided to go with an open mind and heart.  My only goal was to be able to bring ideas back that could be implemented in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The Congress felt like going to a family reunion. The excitement of seeing new and old faces of people you haven’t seen in five years.  Being able to meet and greet those church leaders who you’ve only seen in pictures on the internet.

The Spirit of the Lord moved among us as we celebrated Mass, attended workshops, and networked around our meals.

The Pastoral Plan is a document that is created during each Congress.  The theme this year is “Write the Vision:  A Prophetic Call to Thrive”.  This document contains useful suggestions and ideas for parishes and other Catholic institutions to improve evangelism, learning for adults and young people, and other ideas for spreading the Gospel.

“We cannot be Christians part-time.  If Christ is at the center of our lives, he is present in all that we do” Pope Francis 2013

The NBCC invites Black Catholics to join with those who minister with Black Catholics in the United States for a celebration of faith and culture. One parishioner explains her desire to attend, stating: “I am attending to foster a deeper appreciation and empathy for the gifts and experiences of our African-American community, to learn about the initiatives across the Church in USA to empower a greater sense of belonging and fellowship, so that I can participate in a deeper way in our EDI work and as a Catholic in my everyday life.”

Basilica parishioner and Parish Council member Carole Burton explains the impact of attending the last Congress:

Reflecting on my experience at the National Black Catholic Congress XII in 2017 was a deeply spiritual and enriching personal experience. It allowed me to connect with myself on a deeper level and learn more about the history and traditions of Black Catholics. As a black Catholic woman, it helped me to clarify my purpose. The Congress is filled with joy, reflection, and deep discussions on complex topics. It encourages us to reflect on how we can more effectively apply our Catholic Social Teachings through introspective prayer.

The Congress is an incredible communal experience that holds great significance in both Black culture and our Catholic faith. One of the most notable features of the Congress is the introduction of the Pastoral plan, which offers a framework to help parishes and communities make a meaningful impact over the next five years. The Congress XII plan has already had a positive impact on our parish community, and I do not doubt that the Congress XIII’s plan, “Write the Vision; A Prophetic Call to Thrive,” will continue to support the vision, understanding, movement, and work of the Basilica parish community and beyond.

Please hold the NBCC in your prayer. Let us work together to create a world of solidarity, justice, and peace. Look for ways to learn about the NBCC Pastoral Plan and get involved when everyone returns.

Janice Andersen
Director of Christian Life