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Black and Catholic: How can we be a Universal Church that cares universally?

| Monday, November 12, 2018

Black Catholic History Month began Nov. 1. Did you know? Well, honestly, neither did I.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I even knew Black Catholic History Month existed, but I have known what it’s like to be black and Catholic my whole life. It means having a deep love for both Motown and mother Mary and having full knowledge of the harmful effects of slavery and the healing effects of the sacraments. I’m what the National Black Catholic Congress has termed “authentically Black and truly Catholic.” But, throughout my life, my race and my religion have been two things that are rarely celebrated in the same breath. Instead, as a black Catholic, I’ve often felt like a double minority; a minority in society as well as a minority within the realm of my Catholic faith. I was typically one of the only African Americans in my parish or local youth group, and though I went to a Catholic middle school and high school, it felt like the community around me had very little understanding of how these two elements intertwined.

Sadly, that lack of understanding meant that even amongst my Christian community, there were still moments of prejudice that shook me to my core and will always be etched across my memories. It made me realize that though we found a common understanding in Christ, there were elements of my identity that those in my faith community did not want to or could not understand. But I knew God understood. In my local parish, though I never saw images of a black Jesus, I still knew that Jesus was just as much a part of me as those around me. He was just as active in my life, my family, my church and my community, as he was in each person I encountered.

The experience of not feeling truly seen made me more aware of those on the margins and how Jesus, in particular, reached out to those whom others in His community may have overlooked or forgotten. A study of Catholic social teaching then reinforced to me how we are called to reach out to those on the margins and care for life in all forms. This teaching is meant to be a seamless garment that calls us to safeguard life everywhere.

That same fight for justice that called my college church group to march for life in Washington, D.C. called me to action in 2016 after the unjust shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I still remember my first days on the campus of Notre Dame when national news broke the video and reports of these shootings. As an African American woman of faith, I looked to God for understanding. In my shock, I turned to prayer, but I also looked to the faithful around me to see how we would respond as a community.

Often it seems that people’s lives of faith are a segmented part of their full identity, but how can we divide our identity — gender, race, religion and culture — from how laws or societal circumstances affect the way we live? How can we not be concerned with how those laws affect the way our brothers and sisters are treated within society? I sit with this as I hear the traumatic stories of immigration from friends and colleagues, and as I see the news reports of tragic shootings such as the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. If we are people of faith, moments like these must call us to act and to ask ourselves what we are called to do to make the world a more just kingdom on earth.  If we are a universal church, we must be one that cares universally.

We will consider how to do this during Black Catholic History Month by attempting something I never had the courage to do in my local parish: talk openly about race and faith. In doing this, we are renewing our commitment to dialogue. We are talking about race and culture, both of which are sensitive topics that can be dividing factors for people of common faiths. In faith, we are called to challenge assumptions, fight for justice, break the status quo and challenge divisions.

 

So often in our world people are divided into categories of “us” and “them.” I am hoping this dialogue makes us consider the “we all.” How are we each connected in the fight for justice? How can we come together to make the world a better place? How can we challenge our misconceptions and see the world through new eyes?

“We” are a powerful force, and we are called to be a united body. God isn’t just my God or the black God, but the God of all of us.

This is why Nov. 12’s featured event is so important. Beginning at 12:30 p.m. at Midfield Commons in Duncan Student Center, Campus Ministry will host a panel asking “Is ‘Black Lives Matter’ a Pro-life Issue?” This topic has echoed through my heart and begs the question of how we as a faith community are called to think and respond to the issues in our world today. It reminds us that we are called to not just think about our issues, but the issues that affect life in all races, genders, religions, socioeconomic levels and beyond.

I hope this interactive panel will open a dialogue guided by faith — the type of dialogue that will lead us to work towards a world that better mirrors the kingdom of heaven.

Kayla August serves in Campus Ministry as the Assistant Director of Evangelization and can be reached at [email protected]

 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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