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University arranges events to celebrate Black Catholic History Month

| Friday, November 3, 2017

Campus Ministry, McGrath Institute for Church Life, ND Folk Choir, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and Sacred Music are hosting a series of events throughout November to celebrate Black Catholic History Month.

The committee, composed of individuals from the host organizations, have been working since September to tailor the events in terms of prayer, celebration and education. Deacon Mel Tardy, vice president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, said the month serves to draw attention to black Catholic leaders.

“National Black Catholic History Month was started by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in 1990,” Tardy said. “It’s meant to celebrate black Catholic history and culture, and to create an awareness of the history of lesser-known black individuals who have lived virtuous lives and are great models to us in the faith.”

Rosemary Agwuncha, a senior and intern for African American Ministry, stressed the importance of diversity within the Catholic Church.

“When we are here at Notre Dame people often get in the mindset that there is one way to be Catholic, but there is beauty in the diversity that exists within the Church,” Agwuncha said. “The worship experience for African Americans is a full-body experience, and there is diversity even within the African American tradition. Celebrating and recognizing that idea will give the opportunity to bring people together.”

Rebecca Ruvalcaba, assistant director of multicultural ministry, said she also hopes the celebration of this month will serve as an educational experience for Notre Dame students.

“My hope is to spread awareness that this month exists in the Catholic Church, and it is a means to embrace different ways of worship and coming into faith,” Ruvalcaba said. “The influence and the culture of the African American community is beautiful, which I think students will be able to witness though dance, music and the celebrations.”

Ruvalcaba said she regards this month as a way to observe and admire the strength of the relationship between the community of African Americans and their faith.

“Through the suffering and the challenges that this community has faced, these people have been so resilient and grounded in their faith,” she said.

It is also an opportunity to look back on the stories of past leaders in the Church in order to move forward, Tardy said.

“Learning these stories about Saint Martin De Porres, Augustine of Hippo and Sister Jamie Phelps — who have gone through difficult circumstances yet have endured in faith — is inspiring,” Tardy said. “I think that’s a message that is important in a time where people wonder about what comes next with the Catholic Church.”

The events throughout the month will begin Friday with a Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in honor of Saint Martin De Porres at 11:30 a.m. The Mass will be followed by an evening prayer service in Dillon Hall at 7 p.m. with performances by Voices of Faith and the ND Folk Choir.

Vincent Nguyen, a graduate seminarian for the Congregation of Holy Cross, said he is excited for Friday’s evening service and the rest of the month, as he views the opportunities as new ways to pray that are still rooted in the Catholic tradition.

“It’s a great opportunity to broaden and remind ourselves of how complex and exciting the Catholic Church is, and of the importance of recognizing all of the different people who call themselves Catholic,” Nguyen said.

The month will also highlight race relations in the U.S. beyond the Catholic Church, Ruvalcaba said.

“On Nov. 7 we have a film, ‘Sisters of Selma,’ along with a panel discussion, that will speak in regards to the different issues blacks face in the United States — like discrimination and racism — and how specifically the Catholic sisters were quite present in the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King,” she said.

The observance of the month will end Nov. 20 with a celebration of music and dance featuring performances by brass and jazz bands, the Gospel choir and African dancers in LaFortune Ballroom.

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