FORT WAYNE — Over 50 people from around the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and beyond gathered at celebrate Black Catholic faith and culture at St. Mary Mother of God Church in Fort Wayne for the 2015 Sankofa Day of Reflection on Nov. 7. The word “Sankofa” originates from West Africa and means people need to examine their history, culture and faith in order to know how to proceed into the future. Sankofa made its debut in Fort Wayne this year after being held the previous two years in South Bend at St. Augustine Church.
In his talk, “Black Souls Matter — Standing on the Rock: Pressing Towards the Mark,” Brian Greenfield, a dynamic keynote speaker from Tampa, Florida, brought an important message about conversion.
He shared with his audience that his upbringing was not the typical story one hears of the child rising out of the ashes of an absentee parent or living on the streets. Rather, his mother was an office manager and his father a physician. His parents were Catholic, but attended Mass only on Easter and Christmas.
Greenfield described his journey to Christ as interesting and his own conversion as ongoing. He saw things in his spiritual life shifting in high school and then again in college.
Using an analogy of a mountain, he said everyone is at the base of the mountain where it is largest, but some do not make it to the midway point and even fewer make near the top. Greenfield said he felt frustrated. He began to feel like a “raisin in a bowl of oatmeal” as he matured in his relationship with Christ.
“Reality is that the Black Catholic Church is struggling,” Greenfield said. “I’m here for the young who feel they don’t fit in. The Church needs a little help. There is a sense of urgency because it affects your sons and daughters. “
Greenfield said when he was growing up, there were only two choices: ”God’s way” or the “regular way” — and the commonly accepted “regular way” often won.
Success, he said, was measured by those around you. For Greenfield, success meant earning money, having a wife and children. He soon discovered, however, that the more he chased the things that were not true, the more miserable he felt. This left a “trail of tears” behind for the big, black football player until God became real for him.
Greenfield said conversion to God is a choice that needs to be made every day. Merely attending church on Sunday could simply be a “cosmetic relationship,” but things in one’s life begin to change when the relationship with God becomes real, he said.
Greenfield spoke of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-31. “When garbage becomes normal, we tend to beg people to give us more garbage,” he said. “There is something virtuous about the struggle. When you’re at the bottom, you can only look up (to God). In the midst of adversity, there is a moment of clarity.”
He noted God only needs a moment to convert a heart and God hugs us all along the way as in the story of the Prodigal Son.
After the keynote, participants were invited to attend breakout sessions centered on the five goals of the diocesan Black Catholic Advisory Board. Those goals are evangelization, education, history, pastoral care and vocations.
Many of the young adults who attended enjoyed the camaraderie of other Black Catholics and they liked the upbeat music played at Mass, something similar to what would be found at a traditional Baptist church service.
Francine Henley, a parishioner of St. Augustine Church in South Bend, says she goes to Mass there to “get my shot in the arm” for the week. She has attended other Catholic churches in the area where Blacks are more the minority, but has left feeling like the “raisin in a bowl of oatmeal” that Greenfield mentioned. Another attendee concurred that he attends St. Augustine’s for the fraternity and sorority felt by being among other Black Catholics.
Rosemary Agwuncha is a student at the University of Notre Dame and a member of Holy Cross Church in Austin, Texas, also expressed the importance of a Black Catholic Church because it “seemed to make the Church more like home. To be both Black and Catholic does not have to feel strange. I see people like me and I did not have to choose.” It was noted oftentimes Black Catholics feel stuck in that they are either too Catholic to be Black or too Black to be Catholic.
Heather Taube, a preschool teacher from St. Mary of the Assumption in Avilla, said, “We have to be intentional about welcoming people into our schools and Church in order for our Catholic schools to thrive.”
The day of reflection concluded with the celebration of Mass. Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels and St. Rita parishes of Indianapolis, and chair of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, was the celebrant of Mass that included music from the Gospel choir from Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis.
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