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The Subcommittee on African American Affairs e-newsletter is now available online. The February edition highlights what is going on at USCCB and beyond.
50th Anniversary Initiative - Rebuilding the Bridge: In the coming year, the country will celebrate several 50th anniversaries of civil rights milestones. Check out the 50th Anniversary Initiative page for more information about these events and the contribution of Catholics to this movement.
Plenty of Good Room: This recent publication discusses the spirit and truth of African American Catholic Worship.
30th Anniversary of What We Have Seen and Heard: Take a look at the Black Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Evangelization to see what the bishops were saying and how it is still relevant today. Now available in Spanish!
The Subcommittee on African American Affairs (SCAAA) is the official voice of the African American Catholic community. The subcommittee attends to the needs and aspirations of African American Catholics regarding issues of pastoral ministry, evangelization, social justice, worship, development of leaders and other areas of concern. The subcommittee also seeks to be a resource for the all Bishops and the entire Catholic Church in the United States. It aims to articulate the socio-cultural dimension of the African American Catholic community and identify or create resources that would allow for an authentic integration of the richness of African American Catholic culture and the Catholic Church in the United States.
Bishop, Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux
Chairman of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs
A Dose of Diversity
More often than not these days we spend a lot of time with people that are like us. Truth be told, there are many ways to define "like us". Many upon reading this opening statement immediately thought about racial or ethnic "like-ness". That one is pretty obvious, but "like us" is so much more than that. There are those that are like us politically, or economically. There are those that are like us geographically, such as in the manner of nation, state, city, or even neighborhood. There are those who are like us in age and gender as well. There are those who are like us in our religious beliefs. Many of us worship in the neighborhoods that we live in with other people like us. It's been said that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time of the week. We could all use a dose of diversity, or maybe we're more diverse than we realize.
I am African-American, Catholic, and an ordained Deacon. I was having lunch recently with a group of people like me (African-American Catholic Deacons) and the conversation turned to the similarities in the opportunities and challenges we face in our particular parish ministries. The light began to shine on the fact that most of us, as African-American deacons, serve in predominantly African-American parishes. As the conversation continued I began to realize more and more that I wasn't like the rest of them!
My ministry experiences are different because my parish is not predominantly anything. According to the 2015 pastoral report submitted by my parish we are 33% African-American, 33% Caucasian, 30% Hispanic, 3% Asian, and 1% Other. Even these percentages are deceiving. As diverse as our African-American community is, in a sense we are the most monolithic group. The Caucasians are of French, English, German and Italian descent. To non-Hispanics it's easy to lump all Hispanics and Latinos together but in our parish we have Colombians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Spaniards. The Asians are from the Philippines and Vietnam. While this was something that on some subconscious level I was aware of, the truth is I hadn't given much thought to the makeup of the parish because by being members of the parish they were "like me." There is much more diversity than I noticed. Additionally, my parish houses the Deaf Apostolate for our archdiocese. The deaf, like the rest of us, are a very diverse group. They are of various ethnicities and ages. Some are only hearing impaired, some are lip-readers, some are completely deaf. Our 9:30am Mass in Sundays is in English and American Sign Language (ASL). Our noon Mass is in Spanish.
When I was assigned to the parish 15 years ago I only spoke English. Now I know enough Spanish and ASL to be dangerous. I looked a little deeper and took notice of the blind lady who's there every Sunday and the guy on the opposite side of the aisle from her in his motorized wheelchair sitting next to his deaf wife. I began to realize the effect ministering to this community has had on me. I realized that I had stopped using phrases in my homilies like "as we heard in today's readings" because there were people in front of me who haven't "heard" a thing in their entire lives. I stopped asking "Do you see what I mean?" out of respect for the blind lady. I remembered my struggles working on homilies about Jesus curing deaf, or blind, or paralyzed people, being careful not to offend those "like that" who were seated in front of me.
I realized the great blessing I had received by being able to read the gospel stories about Jesus' various miraculous cures and look out and see those very same people in front of me. I began to realize the blessings of the diversity that I'd been taking for granted. While all of the diverse threads are important in the fabric of life that we are weaving, we sometimes look too closely at the individual threads and miss the beauty of the complete cloth, and other times we see the cloth and don't realize the threads of which it is made. Together we weave a strong swatch of cloth in this coat of many colors. If we are too quick to pull on our single threads, we risk unraveling everything. Every thread matters, not just the ones that are like mine.
We say that we all can use a dose of diversity. Or maybe we just need to look more closely at the diversity that is hidden among us. It's definitely there in front of us. We need look no further than the Gospel message to find it. Jesus' world wasn't made up of just one group of people. There were "Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs" (Acts 2: 9-11)
When the Spirit descended it embraced all of God's created diversity. From its very beginning the Church has been all inclusive. Many of us limit our view of diversity to only the most obvious visible differences. We use those differences to define "us" and "them". If we are honest we have to recognize the diversity that exists among "us" no matter which "us" we are. It's never really us and them. In reality it's "all-us-we".
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