One Church Many Cultures The Good News of Cultural Diversity Newsletter Fall/Winter 2021 

African American Affairs

Repair the Breach!

By: Donna Toliver Grimes, Assistant Director, African American Affairs 

“… Releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke... ‘Repairer of the Breach’ they shall call you.’” (Is 58:6-7;12)

Inside the paradox of Black Catholicism co-exist joy, welcome, riveting sermons, contemplation, cultural markers, pain, rejection, unanswered questions, and generational horrors. For the Black Catholic Apostolate - 81% of whom worship in predominantly white or multicultural parishes - this paradox exists in the Church much as it does in American society.
Once, a domestic mission mostly accompanied by religious orders, today 3 million African Americans choose to be Catholic. More identify as Catholic than affiliate with major Protestant denominations. However, recent studies by the PEW Research Center revealed an alarming exodus of African Americans. Just 54% of African American adults raised Catholic remain Catholic.
In some dioceses, the Black Catholic Apostolate thrives. Clergy and lay leaders stretch resources and allies collaborate to advance the mission. Still, encouragement or assistance in most U.S. dioceses is thin. Closure of diocesan offices, parishes, schools, ethnic ministries, and bans on inculturated liturgical expression indicate declining recognition and support. Moreover, Church silence in the face of atrocities in the community adds salt to old wounds. Thus, many wonder if the Catholic Church will invest ever again in the African American community?

One bright light is the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Born in 1969 during the Civil Rights era, CCHD began listening and working alone side largely African American community groups that attracted people of other races and faiths to reduce poverty and relieve local problems. CCHD survived numerous attacks and challenges yet remains a strong Catholic response to cries for justice and reduced poverty. CCHD distinctly positions itself by championing empowerment. Recently, I spoke with CCHD Executive Director, Ralph McCloud about CCHD and the Black community, including Catholics.

Grimes: Does CCHD promote ecclesial movement towards reconciliation and healing?

McCloud: Through CCHD the Church makes a deliberate, intentional effort and engages in hard conversations. It’s about making communities whole and holy.

Grimes: How about ordinary Catholics?

McCloud: Essentially, people supporting CCHD community organizing and economic development projects ask, “Is it I Lord, am I causing the breach?” because we have to go where the pain is. Walk together. Don’t just write checks. Compassion is to share the passion. Make your “we” bigger, broader. Understand that reality is based on other perspectives. Be open to listening and share both joys and pains.

Grimes: What do you say to those who refuse the annual collection? 

McCloud: They got bad information. They need to encounter [low-income, marginalized] people. And then accompany people without driving the agenda.  

Grimes: Do more Black Catholics need to get involved with CCHD?

McCloud: Our commitment has to go beyond kente cloth. I hope they believe, as I do, that the plight of my people is my concern. At past National Association of Black Catholic Administrators (NABCA) meetings, we did “sweat equity” projects. NABCA and Knights of Peter Claver (KPC) members working with CCHD groups can witness to bishops about the good work of CCHD.

Grimes: Why has the CCHD collection date changed and what’s the new date?

McCloud: The national day for this collection is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary time, same as the World Day of the Poor. This also makes a strong faith connection amidst other campaigns. In 2021, that Sunday is November 14. Like with everything else, communities of faith are welcome to take up the collection on any other Sunday if the proposed national date does not work with their calendar for whatever reason.

Learn more about the PEW Study and CCHD here: