By Deacon Mel Tardy
Nearly 30 pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend attended the National Black Catholic Congress in National Harbor, Maryland, from July 20-23. This diverse group of 28 men, women, and teens included members of several parishes, leaders from the diocese, and the University of Notre Dame.
The National Black Catholic Congress is the oldest lay movement in the U.S., started by Daniel Rudd of Bardstown, Kentucky, to address common issues facing Black Catholics: education, housing, employment, temperance, healthcare, and racism.
Rudd said: “I have always been a Catholic and – feeling that I knew the teachings of the Catholic Church – I thought there could be no greater factor in solving the race problem than that matchless institution whose history for 1,900 years is but a continual triumph over all assailants.” That first Congress, attended by 50 only-male delegates, was also held at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., from January 1 to 4, 1889.
The modern Congress Movement began in 1987 and usually meets every five years, but was postponed in 2022 due to the pandemic. This year, organizers initially expected 1,700, but nearly 3,000 people attended.
The theme for Congress XIII was “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive” based on 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.’”
One key takeaway was that the Congress is producing a National Vision Plan of Action for Black Catholics based on responses by all Congress attendees to a survey, based on the Congress XIII theme.
Attendees prepared for Congress by attending events sponsored by the Diocese Black Catholic Advisory Board, including a February 18 Black Catholic Day of Reflection and a June 1 prayer service and gathering.
Most traveled to Congress on a special pilgrimage bus chartered by the diocese, which departed from Marian High School. Along the way, pilgrims prayed and reflected on similar journeys of hope undertaken by Daniel Rudd and early Congress-goers. Underwriters included the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Notre Dame Federal Credit Union, St. Augustine Parish, and individual donors via fundraisers held at St. Augustine and St. Pius X Parishes.
On the first day, Congress took a roll call and more than 80 dioceses responded. When the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend came up on the screen, pilgrims proudly leapt up and screamed with excitement wearing bright green diocesan T-shirts, an image captured by photo on the Congress national website.
The amazing liturgies included a packed opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., with Cardinal Wilton Gregory serving as Presider and Homilist. Afterward, the group enjoyed a reception and private tour of the African American National Museum of History in Washington, D.C. With uplifting liturgies, keynotes, and sessions, along with diverse vendors and exhibits, pilgrims grew closer to each other and to numerous other attendees from around the country, gaining a better appreciation for the needs, challenges, and gifts of Black Catholics around the country.
Several from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend did sessions, including Chery Ashe (ex-offender ministry) and Deacon Mel Tardy (Living Your Best Life). Deacon Tardy, a member of the Congress Board of Directors, also served as Deacon of the Altar at the closing Mass with Archbishop Roy Campbell, President of the National Black Catholic Congress.
Two St. Augustine parishioners, Tanya Jones and LaDonna Flynn, sang with the Congress Gospel Choir at the closing Mass. There were also three teens who participated in the Congress youth track. They were Jaxson Doaks, Joshua Price, Jr., and Naomi Randall.
Attendees returned rejuvenated, with a new vision for how to serve the needs of Black Catholics in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
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