Six common folks called to lead saintly lives, their inspiration should call us to action
By Ralph E. Moore Jr., Special to the AFRO Black Catholics have always had to fight for first class membership in the American Catholic Church. We advocated to be baptized […] The post Six common folks called to lead saintly lives, their inspiration should call us to action appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .
By Ralph E. Moore Jr.,
Special to the AFRO
Black Catholics have always had to fight for first class membership in the American Catholic Church. We advocated to be baptized while living and laboring on the plantation. We fought to be admitted to Catholic churches– some of which we built– only to be forced to sit in the back or off to side pews once allowed inside. Black Catholics were required, in most churches, to wait until all the Whites at Mass had received “Holy Communion” first before they could receive.
All the while, African-American Catholics put their envelopes in the collection baskets during Mass. It was the only time ushers connected with them. They were not handed the paper bulletins, which White congregants received freely and some ushers blocked Black Catholics from dipping hands in the holy water font as they entered or exited the church.
The indignities bestowed at the local level were extended to the institutional level: at one time, Black and Brown persons need not apply to seminaries or convents, nor seek admission to Catholic schools, housing or hospitals. On top of that, there are little to no images, statues, portraits or missal book covers depicting any persons of color in Catholic churches in the United States. In 2023 there aren’t any African-American saints recognized by the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, there are 11 White American saints fully recognized and celebrated.
It is shameful, embarrassing and just plain wrong.
We, the founders of the Initiative for the Expedited Canonizations of the Saintly Six, say, “If it is wrong now (and it is) fix it now.”
We say strongly, “the Catholic Church owes Black Catholics. Give us our saints now!”
Despite the gross, racist mistreatment by the White Catholic Church in this nation, Black Catholics have remained faithful to God and members of the Catholic Church.
The six African-American candidates we propose for sainthood are Mother Mary Lange, Father Augustus Tolton, Mother Henriette DeLille, Pierre Toussaint, Julia Greeley and Sister Thea Bowman. All of these great, Black Catholics lived through the omnipresent hurt, pain and discrimination of racial prejudice and in fact, did great things with their lives despite it.
That is the reason why the Social Justice Committee of St. Ann Church created an initiative to get expedited canonizations for the first six African-American candidates from the United States.
St. Ann Church is a Black Catholic parish in East Baltimore. It is an activist congregation of activists, many life-long Catholics. The committee is known within the archdiocese for its energy and activism.
Two years ago, the Social Justice Committee started a letter writing initiative to Pope Francis urging him to canonize the first six Black candidates for sainthood from the United States immediately. The letters with a blank signature line were distributed to churches throughout the area. At the first All Saints Day Mass the committee organized, a letter and an ink pen were left on each seat in the pews. Groups around the country and some foreign countries, such as Canada, Barbados, Italy, West Africa and Germany have requested copies of the letter via email and obtained signatures on them. Some sent their letters to us, a few sent theirs directly to Vatican City.
On December 14, 2021, the committee sent 1,500 letters to Pope Francis at his home address. On June 17, 2022 another 1,500 letters were sent to him via U.S. mail. Copies were sent to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Pope’s Vatican Ambassador to the United States. Our committee will be traveling to Rome in October and will hand deliver another 1,000 signed letters to the Pope and the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints. So far, we have an appointment with the Dicastery, and we are still working on getting an audience with Pope Francis.
We have deliberately raised the profiles of the six African-American candidates, the more people know of and talk of them, the more the atmosphere can be created for expedited canonizations.
The committee is proposing that the early Christian practice of public acclamation is more suitable for Black Catholics from the United States because the canonization process is expensive, long, unwieldy, secretive and unevenly applied.
As has been researched and reported by the National Black Catholic Congress and the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., most current Catholic saints are male and of the 10,000 of them, most are Europeans–Italians or Spaniards. The process promotes equal treatment for candidates although clearly the results speak for themselves: zero African-American saints from the United States.
After centuries of enslavements, a century, and a half of Jim Crow segregation inside Catholic institutions, virtual silence during mass incarceration and mass poverty, the simple fact is that the Catholic Church owes Black Catholics. For our centuries of faithfulness and commitment to the Church, we’ve received unrequited love and racial hatred and in the form of unholy prejudice and discrimination.
In the past, Black Catholics from the United States received no admission to seminaries and convents, no access to Catholic housing and little to no treatment at Catholic hospitals. The Catholic Church in America was the “church of no” to Black Catholics and now we realize there are no African-American saints from the United States. Not now, not ever. It feels as if racial segregation remains in America’s Catholic Church’s DNA despite church teachings and Black Catholics being the remnant of the Catholic Church: staying in, supporting and serving city churches, while Whites moved out to the suburbs. The Vatican follows the lead of the American bishops as who should be considered for canonization and when.
All are called to advocate for the expedited canonizations of the first six African-American candidates for sainthood from the United States. It is clearly a racial justice issue.
All are urged to contact the bishops and/or cardinals of their diocese (by letter, phone or in conversation in person) and urge them to contact the Vatican to end the absence of Black American saints.
All are encouraged to post pictures of Mother Lange, Father Tolton, Mother DeLille, Toussaint, Greeley and Sister Thea Bowman prominently in their church. During Mass in the Prayer of the Faithful, there should be included a petition for the expedited canonizations of the first six African-American candidates for sainthood from the United States, before or after Mass on Sundays or otherwise. Prayers for the beatification of the first six saints can be said also with those present in the pews participating.
Letters to Pope Francis calling on the expedited canonizations can be circulated, collected and sent to the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com for a copy of the letter we’re using. Take the occasion of All Saints Day Mass on Nov. 1 to acknowledge and advocate for the ‘saintly six’ in church. Create a program to educate the congregation and the religious serving the church and school about the history of racial prejudice in the Catholic Church in America and how the the saintly six fought through it to live the great lives of doing the great things they did.
Contact the Pope’s Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 333-7121 and advocate for expedited canonizations.
The Social Justice Committee has committed to working persistently on the expedited canonizations. We prayed, collected signatures, spoke on a webinar and a podcast as well as many zoom sessions and in person at churches. The committee is dedicated to action in faith. We believe God wants the six saints canonized and we profess to be “co-workers with God” using a phrase Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us all we must be in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’
When we all fight for justice, we win. If not now, when? If not us, who?
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