“I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24)
Recently, I enrolled in Loyola Marymount University’s first course for Black Catholics Online, titled Sharing our Distinct Gift of Blackness in the Catholic Church, with Professor Howard, the designer of this course. We were asked to reflect on our experience as Black Catholics. Here is my story, my wounds, and my song!
I was born and raised in a catholic family in Rwanda, East Africa, when my family had difficulties staying in a church that stood at the front of colonialism, erected the fences of post-colonialism wars, and cheered the Genocide of 1994 perpetrated against Tutsis.
The pain was deep for my family. We mourned family members and friends killed inside catholic churches and schools. Our struggle was not with the Christ that the church preached about but with Christ’s ways that the church seemed to know little about, a church that refused to stand for justice and truth and never offered a sincere apology. Yet, in that church, my family and I stayed, knowing that the Christ we met in the Eucharist is as wounded and disappointed as we are, and extend his peace and consoling arms to all.
In 2019, I moved to the USA (First-generation immigrant) following my social justice and health equity call with the support and mentorship of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange. With the excitement of exploring other cultures and experiencing new spiritual grounds, I located catholic churches near me and attended mass every Sunday. I learned new songs and new practices, yet soon enough faced a quest I never knew would ever be mine: finding a church that incorporates multicultural devotions. In the first months, the racial divide did not strike me. However, I would mostly be the only African/Black or among the handful present in the congregation. What struck me was the indifference to Black Catholic experiences.
How are we one if my pain does not hurt you?
How are we one, and how is our church universal, if my catholic practice enriched with dances, afro-beat movements, songs, and a symphony of drums and many other instruments do not define catholic theology, liturgy, and worship to you?
Why shall I belong if you fear losing me as a congregation member but care less about losing me as a living presence in the American community?
The three articles published in the 80s that Professor Howard shared with us, The gift of being Black and Catholic by Fr. Clarence Rivers, Black and Catholic by Sr. Francesca Thompson, and then Fr. Edward K. Braxton, are still new and valid today, the black experience and gifts of blackness are still ignored and neglected by the Catholic Church.
The Catholic church’s expression of love to black people in the USA is not yet a whole and sincere expression of love, and the black experience has been that of receiving a deficient love and hollow concern.
Author: Honorine Uwimana is an MPH candidate at the University of San Francisco, hailing from Kigali, Rwanda. She is the PCYAC representative to PCUSA’s National Council and a Pax Christi Young Adult Caucus leadership team member.
For more information on Black Catholic Spirituality, visit Loyola Marymount University.