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NBCC XIII - THE VISION CONTINUES!


Daryl Grigsby, MA in Pastoral Studies

"I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith." 2 Tim. 4:7


If you love being Black and love being Catholic, then the National Black Catholic Congress XIII in Washington, DC, in July 2023 was a continual overflow of energy, blessing, spirit, and connection. I had never been in a space where everyone was Black, Catholic, and energized about both identities. Of the 3,000 present, there were some who were not African-American, and you knew by their presence, as Black theologian James Cone wrote, ‘their heart and mind’ is with their Black brothers and sisters. Imagine Black Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Black bishops, Black priests, Black deacons, Black religious, and Black laypersons gathered to learn, connect, worship, serve, share the Eucharist, pray, and sing. From standing in the registration line in the beginning to the farewell brunch on Sunday, I met Black Catholics of all ages and vocations from dioceses all over the country, as well as many from Africa.


For me, the highlight was not one moment but rather the many conversations I had with other Black Catholics at meals, in the Exhibit Hall, during workshops, before and after Mass, on the bus, and in the hallways. Each was a reminder that Black Catholics are a gift to the Church, their parish, their community, their diocese, and society at large. I was impressed at the range of activities to make God’s Reign of justice and mercy a reality for others. The active ministry was not reserved for a few, but everyone I spoke with was committed to putting the light of God ‘on the lampstand’ in order to bring ‘light to all in the house.’ (Mt. 5:15).


So, in many ways, the Congress was, in the words of Bishop John Ricard SSJ's closing homily, a call to ‘Don’t let the fire go out.’ He reminded us to do more of what we are already doing, and in the words of 2 Timothy 4:7, to finish the race. His homily, as well as the others, were reminders of the beauty of the Black Catholic journey. Cardinal Wilton Gregory in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune in the other Mass celebrations reminded us of our call to proclaim the Good News, embrace Jesus in the Eucharist, and make real the Reign of God.


After Friday’s mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, many were bused to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. There was a reception, music, and, most of all, an opportunity to experience Black history from slavery through Barack Obama in the powerful exhibits of the Museum. From entering the slave ship through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, lynchings, the rise of Black colleges, Black military service, the murder of Emmitt Till, and the work of Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, up through Black power, the Black Panthers and the election of Barack Obama were all reminders that we must ‘keep the flame alive.’


Saturday night’s Eucharistic Adoration, ‘Stay With Me,’ was a beautiful combination of Catholic devotion and gospel music. As we all experienced Jesus in the Bread of Life, Fr. Ajani Gibson began singing 'Total Praise’ in prayer before the altar. He was joined by the choir and the entire audience in expressing our joy as the gathered Body of Christ. The choir, led by Lynne’ Gray of Washington DC, was a gift throughout the entire Congress, lifting holy hands and voices for all the Morning Praise events and each of the Liturgies. ‘Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Jesus,’ ‘Every Praise,’ ‘We’ve Come This Far By Faith,’ and other songs grounded each celebration with sincere faith.

Workshops were offered throughout the entire Congress, beginning

Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS Loyola Marymount University

with Prof. Michael Howard’s pre-congress workshop, ‘Black Catholic Faith Online.’ He urged us to heed both Vatican II and Pope John Paul II's call to use technology as a way to minister, serve, and connect with others. In anticipation of what would be a common feature in workshops, Prof. Howard closed his session by leading us in Hezekiah Walker’s ‘I Need You To Survive.’ In particular, he asked the men to sing verses in honor of the women in the audience. That was not the last session wherein singing was part of the experience. Various workshops broke out in ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ ‘I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired,’ and other gospel classics. It was again a reminder of the gift of Black Catholicism: that sound, movement, and spirit are part of our particular way of being Catholic.


My workshop, Synodality, Black Catholic Spirituality, and the Racial Divide, was offered twice. The message of the workshop is that Pope Francis’ Synodal initiative offers an opportunity to employ the gifts of Black Catholic Spirituality to address the enduring and tragic racial divide in the church and the nation. Synod, from the root ‘syn’ (together) and ‘hodos’ (door or path), is considered by Pope Francis a fundamental way of being a church. That is, we are all journeying together toward the fullness of God’s Reign, and we must take time to listen ‘with the heart’ to others, those within and outside the Church. He reminds us that in listening to and discerning with others, we together can hear where the Holy Spirit is leading.



Dr. Shannen Dee Willaims

Black Catholic Spirituality is significant in that Black Catholics, in the words of scholar Shannen Dee Williams, express ‘uncommon faithfulness.’ That is, we are loyal to a Church that, as an institution, often shows little love in return. Yet we find in the Church and the Eucharist a connection to God that holds us and sustains our vocation to love God and our world. In addition, Black Catholics are the only ethnic group, among white Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, and Black Protestants, who primarily (75% according to some surveys) worship in spaces where they are not the majority. This means that for most Black Catholics, their devotion to the Church is greater than their need to worship in spaces where they are in the majority. This does not mean they are not devoted to the Black community, but location and geography leave them without a local Black parish. Yet, they do not leave the church but continue to find God through the Communion of Saints, the Eucharist, and Catholic Social Teaching. Those 25% who do attend Black parishes are critical in that their parishes provide a place for the full expression of Black Catholic faith and practice.


Finally, the racial divide is an ugly reality in our Church. In the book White Too Long, White Southern Baptist author Robert Jones noted through surveys that Whites who attend Protestant and Catholic Churches are more racially biased than Whites who do not profess a religious faith. Thus, the workshop was a call to implement synodality where we are and use the gift of Black Catholic persistence and the Pope’s call to listen together to begin dismantling the racial divide.

Daryl Grigsby poses with Mary and Jesus

There were many other highlights. A beautiful image of Black Mary and the child Jesus was everywhere, and was on a prayer card and a rosary given to each of the attendees. Saturday night was a service project attended by young and older alike, where we packaged food to send to Haitian children. There was a prayer chapel for quiet time, and reconciliation was offered throughout the Congress. The Friday and Saturday Plenary addresses by Cardinal Wilton Gregory and scholar and poet Dr. Omekongo Dibinga were unforgettable calls to live in the fullness of our black Catholic selves.


In the main Congress hall, where all the masses were held, we sang and prayed and worshiped under six banners with images of the Black Catholics considered for canonization as saints. Thus, Mother Mary Lange, Julia Greeley, Rev. Augustus Tolton, Pierre Toussaint, Sister Thea Bowman, and Henriette DeLille looked down on us as we took up and carried forward the flame of Black Catholic devotion and practice. Their images reminded us we are part of a large and beautiful family of Black Catholics who witness, through word and deed, the Presence of God in our lives.

L to R: Honorine Uwimana, Lori Keenan and Daryl Grigsby

Author: Daryl Grigsby is a Catholic convert of 25 years, born in Washington, DC, and currently living in Nevada City outside of Sacramento, California. Daryl is in the Diocese of Sacramento and a member of SS Peter and Paul in Rocklin, CA. Daryl is a published author on aspects of Black history. One of his books, 'In Their Footsteps: Inspirational Reflections On Black History for Every Day of the Year,' features brief sketches on 365 well and little-known individuals from history. He has also written articles for the National Catholic Reporter.

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Uwimana Honorine
Uwimana Honorine
Aug 28, 2023

Well done, good and faithful servant!

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