February 8, 2012 // Uncategorized

Catholics celebrate African American heritage at SANKOFA

The Gospel choir sings at St. Augustine Church in South Bend on Feb. 4 as Catholics across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend gathered for SANKOFA — Celebrating Black Catholic Faith and Culture: Reviewing the Past, Examining the Present, Planning the Future.

SOUTH BEND — “I’m so glad, Jesus lifted me, singing glory hallelujah, Jesus lifted me.” The lyrics of that hymn led by the University of Notre Dame Voices of Faith Gospel Choir were deeply felt by over 80 Catholics from around the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend as they gathered at the SANKOFA — Celebrating Black Catholic Faith and Culture: Reviewing the Past, Examining the Present, Planning the Future. The conference was held on Feb. 4 at St. Augustine Church in South Bend.

A video welcome delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades opened the day.

“I am with you in spirit,” he said. “African Americans are an important part of our history, as was Father Augustus Tolton, who was the first black priest ordained in the United States. He was a holy man who not only brought hope to the priesthood, but to the Catholic Church. I’m praying with you that the love of the Lord shines brightly on this day.”

The bishop, who worked closely with the organizers of the day of reflection, was unable to attend.

Dominican Sister Jamie Phelps was the keynote speaker for the day of reflection and spoke on evangelization and culture.

“The Holy Spirit is working through every person, religious and lay. We must then ask God what He wants us to do and then do it,” she said.

Sister Phelps took the attendees through an African American timeline and an African American Catholic historical timeline. She continued by exploring a continuum on becoming a multicultural Church and society.

“When God calls, you need to do something,” she said. “Don’t think it is going to be easy, but just listen to the spirit.”

The event was held in preparation for the upcoming Faith Engaged: Empower, Equip, Evangelize National Black Catholic Congress XI, NBCC of 2012, SANKOFA Celebrating Black Catholic Faith and Culture, Day of Reflection that will be held this summer in Indianapolis.

The three breakout sessions of the day included, “Seasoning the Salt of the Banquet: The Faith of Black Catholics in White Affluent Parishes,” led by James Summers; “Inculturation: Who are Black Youth Today and How Should We Minister to Them?” with Vincent Guider; and “The History of the Church and the Education of African American Catholics,” led by Leslie Morgan.

The event also featured an oral history video from Sadie Smith, who was among the trailblazers of St. Augustine Church. Smith stated that St. Augustine Church was built by both blacks and whites working together for a common cause — a church where blacks in the city could worship freely.

To complete the inspiring day of reflection the University of Notre Dame Voices of Faith Gospel Choir lead the music for the closing Mass celebrated by Bishop John M. D’Arcy, bishop emeritus, with hymns that included “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” and “I Surrender All.”

Bishop D’Arcy, a longtime supporter of St. Augustine Church, encouraged those gathered to pray for the canonization of the Venerable Henriette DeLille, a freed slave, who in 1836 founded the Sisters of the Presentation, later known as the Sisters of the Holy Family, in New Orleans.

Jonathon Jones, a senior at Marian High School, said of the African American heritage in South Bend, “My friends don’t believe that there are Black Catholics. When I tell them there are a lot of us, they laugh and say one or two. So I think it’s important to make St. Augustine more visible in the diocese so everyone can see all the good work that is being done here.”

“This day of reflection has been wonderful,” said Metice Smith of St. Mary Parish in Fort Wayne. “It was good to come to St. Augustine and join other Catholics and talk about our commonalities as well as our differences. This day has the total support of Bishop Rhoades, who has been working with us the entire time to make this day. I know he would be pleased that it has been a big success.”

“But more than anything I think if our friend the late Thelma Schulte who would love the idea of all the Black Catholics from around the diocese coming together to witness together and talk about where we all go from here. I hope we can all grow closer from this wonderful experience,” she added.

Wendy Summers of Granger was touched by the day, and said, “I’m a member of Pius X and my husband and I are so happy to be a part of this day of reflection. I think I might be coming over to St. Augustine a little more often.”

Mary Glowaski, secretary of  Evangelization and Special Ministries, said she was inspired by the day as well. “It’s simply days like this that make the world a better place, and they continue to light our fire and desire to serve.”

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