A report on the 12th National Black Catholic Congress

The key message for participants at the 12th National Black Catholic Congress held in Orlando, Fla. from July 6-9 was twofold – that Black Catholics must work harder to bridge the racial divide in communities, the nation and within the church, while the Catholic Church needs to be a stronger force in confronting the systemic racism at the root of mass incarceration and economic inequality. A summary of the meeting was posted on the National Catholic Reporter (July 10, website.

The event held every five years, attracted over 2,200 participants from across the US to learn from each other and draw inspiration from speakers such as Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, author of the pastoral letter and study guide “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015.”

In his address to the delegates, Bishop Braxton reminded them that they could all do something to own their own history and to be engaged in the community. He talked about the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC and how his visit to the edifice impressed him. And although he recognized the museum as an outstanding achievement, he lamented the lack of references there to leading African-American Catholics such as Father Augustus Tolton, the Sisters of the Holy Family, Sister Henriette Delille, Father Pierre Toussaint, Mother Mary Lange, or Sister Thea Bowman.

Bishop Braxton went on to encourage attendees to exercise their rights to vote, participate in public life, run for public life, use resources that develop discussion about the racial divide, and inspire young people to become involved.

“I give you these imperatives: Listen, learn, think, act and pray,” he said. “African-American Catholics need to get into real conversations with others in the community about this history so we can grow by means of knowledge.”

The theme for the 12th NBCC was “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God.” It was held amidst a backdrop of an increase in racial violence, a polarizing presidential election and a nation ripped open by a series of killings of unarmed blacks by police.

For the entire NCR summary, click here.

For a summary of Bishop Braxton’s remarks from the Catholic News Service (July 12, 2017), click here.