By Lynnea Mumola
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Flanked at the front of the shrine are six large portraits of black Americans whose faith-filled lives have put them on the path to possible canonization by the Catholic Church, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, Roy E. Campbell Jr. celebrated his February service. 6 to mark the Month of Black History in the Archdiocese of Washington.
“Celebrating Black History Month not only enlightens us about the contributions of black Americans, but also reminds us of the work for justice and equality that is still before us,” Bishop Campbell said during Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. .
“Only when every person in this nation sees everyone else as equal to them – sees everyone as a child of God – can justice and equality be achieved,” he said. “Then we will have peace and love will flourish.”
Some of these works include the official recognition of the faith testimony of black Americans through holiness, the sharing of stories about American color models, and a more balanced representation in leadership and other roles, he said.
In his homily, the bishop pointed out that although blacks make up 14.3% of the American population, currently only 3% of American senators are black.
Quoting Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, the first black American cardinal, in a recent local interview, Bishop Campbell read: African Americans who have contributed and pursued greatness frequently. in the face of rejection and hostility because of their race and heritage. ”
“The month of black history is that opportunity for all of us,” the cardinal said. “In our archdiocese we celebrate Black history every month, sharing the many good stories of our people and parishes that serve our black Catholic communities.”
Bishop Campbell, who is chairman of the Black Catholic National Congress, urged attendees to learn more about prominent African Americans, including Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson, and Rosa Parks, as well as lesser-known ones, such as Julia Greeley, a slave. released from the Midwest, who eventually spent many years serving the poor in Denver, spending all she could to help poor families.
To avoid disturbing anyone receiving charities, Greeley often worked in the middle of the night. In 2016, the cause of Greeley’s canonization was opened.
He joined five other black Catholics on the road to holiness: Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan sister of perpetual worship; Mother Henriette Delille and Mother Mary Lange, who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family and the Oblate Sisters of Providence, respectively; layman Pierre Toussaint; and Father Augustus Tolton, the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States known to be black.
Portraits of all six were displayed in front of the altar flanking the bishop as he spoke.
As Greeley and the others become more and more well-known, Bishop Campbell noted that there are “too many people who are not part of the majority racial profile of this nation who still suffer from the unworthiness of their human identity.” suffered their predecessors as enslaved people, who were considered less than slaves. human.”
The prelate added: “They lived and worked in an obscure and unjust ministry, only to die like another black man who was not even worthy to have a stone to mark their graves and did not admit that they too. they were children of God. “
The month of black history is a time for believers to learn and grow, he said. “Too often we underestimate the image of God in one another – the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a sincere compliment, or the slightest act of concern,” said Bishop Campbell.
All these gestures “have the potential to change a life. People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Hug us all equally and embrace God’s love for us. ”
Bishop Campbell said for Americans, Black History Month is a time to honor African Americans for their love. “When we strive to be better and share our gifts of love with each other, we will honor black Americans – and all Americans – every month of our lives.”
In his welcome remarks before the Mass began, Wendi Williams, Executive Director of the Office for Cultural Diversity and Extension for the Archdiocese, noted the purpose of uniting archbishopric families to “celebrate the beauty, identity, richness and importance of diversity in our cultures. . ”
Williams also welcomed the congregation to those who watched the live video, thanking them for marking “the beginning of the month of black history.
“The Lord has called each of us to be here today,” she said, “to share, learn, and celebrate our unique gifts and varied experiences so that we can rise in a choir from many different voices. united in praise and thanksgiving ”.
“We are meeting today for this Mass,” Williams added, “to thank God for the gifts brought to life by the courage, strength, perseverance, and talents of our African American brothers and sisters.”
Started in the United States in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson, a one-week period was set aside to honor the contributions of African Americans and raise awareness of black history.
Woodson originally chose a week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, an African-American writer and abolitionist, and President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, and the idea has spread to other countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
mons. W. Ronald Jameson, Rector of St. Matthew’s and Father Robert Boxie III, a Catholic chaplain at Howard University, concelebrated the Mass.
Describing Black History Month as a time to “take a close look at the many and varied contributions of African Americans to this country,” Father Boxie said that African Americans were part of the story of the United States just before the country began. making the United States of America. Affirm what it is today.
“Black History Month celebrates those achievements and achievements” in the country’s history and for African Americans “as steadfast witnesses of the faith that should be celebrated by all,” he said.
“African-American history is American history,” added Father Boxie, who accompanied 11 students at Howard University to the liturgy.
Mumola writes for the Catholic Standard, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.