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National Black Catholic Congress celebrates Black spirituality
Aisha C. Young

National Black Catholic Congress celebrates Black spirituality

By Aisha C. Young

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland. The National Black Catholic Congress convention (NBCC) occurred this year from July 20-23 at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Maryland. The Congress XIII theme was “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive.” The spiritual basis for the theme comes from Habakkuk 2:2-4: “Then the LORD answered me and said: ‘Write down the vision; Make it plain upon tablets, so that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. See, the rash have no integrity; but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live.’”

NBCC currently convenes every five years; this was the 13th congress. The first five took place in the late 1800s. Due to various anti-Black movements, the congress ceased for safety. It was revived in 1987 and has been going strong ever since. The Covid-19 pandemic caused the event to be postponed for a year, but it was well worth the wait!

Over 3,000 Black Catholics attended, representing 86 dioceses. During this three-day event, there were over 50 enrichment sessions to choose from on various topics from inclusion and treasuring parishioners with physical and intellectual disabilities, to developing catechetical resources from an Afrocentric perspective, to building a sustainable skillset to work in social justice. Instructors from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, as well as other academics and lay people, facilitated sessions with fruitful discussions. Dr. Omekongo Dibinga, the second keynote speaker, shared his spoken word and positive affirmations. Adding to the ambiance was the music. With the musical talents of Veronica Downs-Dorsey, Lynne Gray, Rawn Harbor, the NBCC 2023 Choir (co-ed, multi-ethnic, various ages, and multi-diocesan)  was formed. Their unified voices moved the crowd to tears at the final Mass.

Exhibitors provided an opportunity to purchase African garb and housewares. Afrocentric priest stoles and altar cloths were available for purchase. Additional supplemental information and educational tools were also available. Other exhibitors included, but were not limited to, representatives from Catholic campus ministries at historically Black colleges and universities and passionate parishioners promoting the causes of the six African-Americans up for sainthood.

A private reception was held at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, also known as the African American Smithsonian. While this event was not focused specifically on Catholicism, it was a blessed opportunity to relish and rejoice in 400+ years of Black history, American history. On the final evening, attendees participated in a meal packing service project, No Child Hungry.  Several thousand meals were prepared for impoverished people living in Haiti.

Additionally, a youth track was available for teens aged 13-17 to strengthen their faith and help them grow in the Catholic Church.

Especially for Black Catholics who are geographically isolated, NBCC is an opportunity to see Black people who are serving in all roles in the Catholic Church. The Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies Auxiliary of Peter Claver were distinctively present in full regalia. There were nuns from two prominent Black orders, Sisters of the Holy Family and Oblate Sisters of Providence. Both orders were founded in the early 1800s. All of the seated Black bishops in the United States were there. Cardinal Wilton  Gregory, the first and only Black American Cardinal, gave the keynote address and was interviewed.

It was empowering to see successful lay Blacks, Black academics, and parish leaders at all levels embracing and sanctifying our religion. Imagery is important. The image of a Black Madonna and child graced both sets of stairs that led to additional breakout rooms. This image was featured as a background for the selfie station and as a grand mural gracing the gala. You can’t be what you can’t see. Representation matters.

At the final celebration of Mass at the conference, the audience was asked if anyone received the call to join the priesthood or serve as women religious. What a joy to see a score of people walking to the front of the ballroom to answer the call!  Our ancestors that are up for canonization would be so proud!

NBCC is an opportunity to be unapologetically, authentically Black, and truly Catholic. There were attendees from other ethnicities, who value the gifts of Black Catholics or serve in the Black Catholic community, who gained from the tutelage of their brothers and sisters in Christ and joined in the celebration. 

If you are interested in learning more about the work of CSCBC, please contact the Colorado Springs Council for Black Catholics at cscbc.be.seen@gmail.com. For more information about the National Black Catholic Congress, see https://nbccongress.org.

(Aisha C. Young is President of the Colorado Springs Council for Black Catholics.)

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