Father George Clements: We Shall Overcome with the Power of Our Witness
"It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute." (Lk. 21:12-19)
These words from Luke’s Gospel are most appropriate as we celebrate the anniversary of the death of a priest and prophet, Father George Clements. Father Clements organized black clergy to lovingly confront our bishops just as the prophets confronted Pharaohs and Kings in the days before the birth of Christ. Father Clements’ love for Mother Church prompted the black Catholic clergy to confront the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to take action to address systemic racism. His rationale:
"The mood was that we had a job to do. We had to really turn things around. We had to really make the Church understand how viciously evil segregation is and how important it is that the church, of all institutions, would reflect that which God made us to be… human beings and equal. We went out with a mission.”
This month we celebrate a great historic moment. As you read this Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who might not have been ordained a bishop were it not for Father Clements’ action in 1968, will be the first (but not the last) African American to be elevated to the College of Cardinals. The voice of the community that formed Toussaint, Tolton, DeLille, Lange, Greeley, and Bowman, will now be physically present in the College of Cardinals. The story of real faith in the city and the real Church in the neighborhood will be at the table in Rome. Father Clements is smiling as his little brother from Chicago gets the red hat, the symbol of assuming the office of Cardinal. Oh, Happy Day!!
Author: Deacon Timothy Tilghman, The Deacon in the Neighborhood.