by Leslye Colvin, CCUSA Parish Social Ministry Section & Program Specialist, Justice & Peace Ministries, Archdiocese of Atlanta
[NOTE: This article originally appeared in Catholic Charities USA’s Daily Reflections and Prayer Resources. It specifically celebrates National Black Catholic History Month, which is November, but is apropos for this month as well.]
Cultures designate specific times to honor events and peoples significant to their history. Scripture proclaims that even within the first week of creation it was important to honor God on the seventh day. Humanity moves within the parameters of time from weeks to months to seasons, each bearing its own significance. Similarly, the liturgical calendar carries the faithful from Advent to Christmas to Ordinary Time to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to Ordinary Time and the cycle perpetually repeats throughout the universal Church. Each time gives voice to the challenges that mark a historical and transformative journey of faith. In the process, two significant occurrences develop. The history becomes ours, and we become the guardians of the legacy.
National Black Catholic History Month (NBCHM) reflects the rising of a consciousness to remember and share the history of a people striving to rise above struggle to proclaim their inherent dignity and the dignity of humanity. Black Catholics are a diverse people reflecting a range of experiences, hues, lifestyles, opinions and perspectives. We are saints and we are sinners. We are cradle Catholics and we are converts. We are clergy and we are laity. We are Martha and we are Mary. We are Zaccheus and Zacharias.
You distinctly hear the beauty and complexity of our history in the instrumental version of Mary Lou Williams’ Credo, the very movements that are woven by the Spirit throughout the history of our Church and our nation. Centuries before the establishment of the Vatican, and the construction of the concept of “race” as we know it, our African ancestors followed “the way” of Christ. Knowing upon whose shoulders we stand, we are a proud people. Knowing in whose name we are baptized, we are a faithful people.
Winston Churchill declared, “History is written by the victors.” While there may be some truth in his words, the claim is not absolute. History is written by the survivors courageous enough to speak their truth with the often unspoken hope of dialogue, reconciliation and peace. From them we learn of enduring unimaginable indignities and ineffable hardships with a staunch belief in the mercy of God who cannot be confined by time and space.
History shows the will of God unfolding in the fullness of time. The process is not linear, but cyclical. Descendants of a once kidnapped and enslaved people relate to the story of the Exodus in a uniquely personal manner. Remembering those who died in the Middle Passage; those, like Christ, who were hung on trees; and those whose humanity was denied is part of the inheritance. Dwelling in the Promised Land is the timeless hope as the role of faithful citizenship is embraced.
Today, Black Catholic History is being written through our faithfulness and our failings. NBCHM is a time for us – for all of us – to collectively remember and share the contributions and struggles of Black Catholics. It is also a time for the Catholic Church in the United States – clergy and laity – and people of goodwill to stand in solidarity with us as we seek to follow Our Lord towards dialogue, reconciliation, and peace.
Pope Francis’ words to Palestinian and Israeli leaders on May 24, 2014 are equally relevant to us as we honor Black Catholic History Month: “The path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace must constantly be taken up anew, courageously and tirelessly. There is simply no other way.” May it be so.