With a theme of “Walk Together Children,” the Joint Conference of Black Catholic Clergy, met at the University of Notre Dame from July 24 to 28. They honored jubilarians celebrating their 25th, 50th, 60th, and 70th anniversaries in ordained, married, and religious life on July 25 at a Mass celebrated in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The overall conference was a collaboration of the National Black Sisters Conference (NBSC); the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC); the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons (NABCD); and the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association (NBCSA) to affirm each other and discuss topics relevant to their individual and combined ministries.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, of the Archdiocese of Louisville. Addressing the congregation, Bishop Rhoades congratulated the archbishop on his recent appointment to shepherd the Kentucky archdiocese.
“I pray that your conference here at Notre Dame will be joyful and fruitful for you and for the Church that you love and serve,” Bishop Rhoades said at the beginning of Mass.
Many of the religious dressed in traditional and colorful African garments, and a choir composed of parishioners from two Black parishes in Indianapolis belted out gospel music to accompany the celebration of Mass.
In his homily, Father Carl Gales, a recently ordained priest from Our Lady of Africa Parish, Chicago, stressed the importance of African-American identity, especially in terms of the Church.
“Black Americans: deep within our DNA, a story is buried.”
Addressing the jubilarians present at the Mass, he said, “Because of you all, it has made it possible for me to be here today.”
He continued by saying that the history of slavery and oppression travels with Black Americans in their skin and DNA despite what he says are efforts to erase that history.
“Because of your telling the story, you have passed the story on to us.”
He told those gathered that they had three routes they could take to continue progression in the Church.
“We can stand still. We can walk together. Or we can fall apart.”
Father Gales also criticized those who say that the Church and its celebration of Mass “shouldn’t sound like a Baptist or Pentecostal church.”
“It’s not over, we all have work to do. There’s treasure in our skin, and we have a mission of remembering, of telling our story, to break the chains of denial, especially in years of passive-aggressive silence. It’s not over. This is why we walk together.”
Sister Jacqueline Nedd, who celebrated her 25th jubilee at Mass, offered advice to young people discerning their vocations.
She said that young people should “spend time in prayer in quiet, with deep listening, so that they can hear God’s voice. It might come in a whisper, so you need to be quiet. Spend time in quiet prayer and meditation so that you can hear what God is saying to you.”
“Our Black Catholic ancestors have suffered too much for us to fall apart. Our Black Catholic ancestors have struggled too much for the freedoms that we all now enjoy. We owe it to them to walk together.”
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