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Dr. Valerie D. Lewis-Mosley

Thirty-fourth Sunday: Christ the King Sunday

"Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones..." (Mt. 25:31-46)

“I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord.” Ez 34:14

The Solemnity of Jesus Christ, the King of the University, is a sobering reminder for me that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of. God - Elohim, who made heaven and earth and all of creation bows to Him. This liturgical celebration holds a particular significance as well. My home parish of the Church of Christ the King in Jersey City, New Jersey, within the Archdiocese of Newark, also celebrates its annual homecoming feast day. It is a family reunion of the multigenerational Black Catholic families that are the descendants of the founders of the Black Catholic laity. Ninety-three years later, we continue in the legacy of our ancestors of faith. Those great clouds of witnesses stood in holy boldness to initiate the formation of sacred space for their families and community where they would not be denied the Eucharist.

On the heels of the Great Migration, they gathered from the segregated south into this northeastern town in Communion Mission Participation to enlarge the tent of the Catholic experience in New Jersey. The structures of sin, racism and exclusion- that were persistent even in the North could not dull the light of faith within these living stones of faith. Although they were rejected by some within the Catholic local parishes, the Bishop of Newark (Bishop Walsh, later to become Archbishop) served as a shepherd who approved the Letters of Incorporation (July 1930) for the establishment of Christ the King, the first Black Catholic Church in the State of New Jersey. It was established as an apostolate for the mission of the evangelization of Black Catholics. The words of Bishop Walsh’s homily on the day of dedication stated with fall authority, “…Although we build this sanctuary for the apostolate of Negro Catholics, they are welcomed within any Catholic Church...”

Many of the Black Catholic population of Jersey City had begun to attend Black churches in the Protestant tradition because of the exclusion and racism that they were experiencing during the late 1920s in New Jersey. The establishment of the Church of Christ the King provided for a gathering of the flock, a return home to their faith of origin.

Theological Reflection (Scripture, Culture, Tradition, History) is the lens of my encounter with today’s Scripture and Solemnity and Homecoming Feast. This shepherd of the Church of Newark understood today’s First Reading from the Prophet Ezekiel. Where the society of 1930 was pejorative in their view of my ancestors as black sheep, Archbishop Walsh understood that the laity that formed Christ the King were symbolic of the stone that had been turned away and later became the cornerstone. Ninety-three years after its incorporation, our parish is alive and continues in its mission of Evangelization and Social Justice. Archbishop Walsh’s action of taking a census of not only the Black Catholic population but also the Black population within New Jersey at that time makes me reflect on the passage of Ezekiel: "I myself will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark” (Ez 34:12). “The cloudy darkness” of racism threatened the Black Sheep of the Church then and unfortunately even to this day. The Pew Report of February 2021 and March 2022 engage the dialogue of racism and its impact on the Black Catholic community.

The Gospel message of today, “Whatsoever you do for the the least of my brothers and sisters,” is the tendering care mandate mission statement of Jesus’ public ministry as noted in Luke 4:14-19. It is an example of how to be a good shepherd. It is the foundation of the Catholic Social Justice Principles. Care for the most vulnerable is evidenced by Archbishop Walsh’s acting in Solidarity with the Black Catholic community of the 1930s. It was also evidenced in the charitable works of the Black Catholic ancestors and elders of the Church of Christ the King. They provided shoes and soup kitchens during the Great Depression to the people of Jersey City. These were the charitable works of their St. Vincent De Paul Guild, engaged in helping the poor and vulnerable of society. The mission and ministry of Christ the King Church grew in extraordinary numbers from 13 to 1200 parishioners in a matter of 18 months. The first Confirmation class, two years after the Letters of Incorporation were granted, is documented at 226 people, including 104 adults and 122 children old enough to understand, confirmed by Archbishop Walsh on June 29, 1932.

It is the faith of our ancestors and elders that has brought us this far for ninety-three years. It is the blessing of the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, that has allowed us to say, The Lord Is Our Shepherd we shall not want. As we close out National Black Catholic History Month, our parish feast day will be the telling of the story of our family reunion in Christ Jesus.

Author: Dr. Valerie D. Lewis-Mosley is a Pastoral Theologian and Parish Historian for the Church of Christ the King, Jersey City, New Jersey. Her Livingstone ancestors were among the original founding parishioners of the parish. They Livingstone family has a six-generation legacy of baptisms, confirmations and sacramental marriages at CTK. Her ancestors (great-grandparents, grandfather, great aunts and uncles and cousins) are present in the historical archival photo.

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