Baltimore, Md., Mar 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Black Catholics across the globe have dedicated their talents and their lives to their faith since earliest days of the Church, a Catholic author and scholar has said.
“Black Catholicism is not something new. From the very first century, people of color have been involved in the universal Church,” Dr. Camille Brown, author of the 2008 book “African Saints, African Stories,” told CNA.
“They have embraced the Universal Church with courage and with love of the Lord, just like everyone else.”
Brown noted that this history dates back to events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, where Philip the Apostle preached the gospel to an Ethiopian who “returned home rejoicing.”
“We have scriptural evidence that the Gospel and the message of Our Lord Jesus Christ went to Africa from early on,” she said.
“We have men and women of color from Africa who loved the Lord, who were martyrs for the Church and are definitely a part of our history. We cannot forget that it's nothing new,” Brown said.
An associate superintendent of Archdiocese of Baltimore schools, Brown has also taught a course on the history of black Catholics at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
Brown's book lists “over 400 people of color who are identified saints.” Her own count exceeds 700 people, though she added that the racial identification of some saints is debated.
“They were ordinary men and women just like us who just tried to love Jesus. Many were martyred,” she said.
The first identified martyrs in Africa were St. Speratus and companions, while three Popes came from Africa: Victor I, Gelasius I, and Pope St. Miltiades.
More recent black saints include St. Josephine Bakhita from Sudan, who was canonized in 2000. Born in what is now Sudan in the nineteenth century, she was kidnapped and sold as a slave multiple times before being bought by an Italian consul, who treated her well. According to her biography at the Vatican website, she returned to Italy with her owner and converted to Christianity, later joining the Daughters of Charity.
Known for her sanctity and her Christian witness, St. Josephine Bakhita died in 1947. “What a beautiful story and what a beautiful testament to forgiveness!” Brown reflected.
Black Catholicism has been particularly strong in some parishes and regions of the U.S. New Orleans has historically had a “strong pocket” of black Catholics, represented in part at Xavier University. It continues to have a strong presence today.
Baltimore, the first diocesan see in the U.S., has had a “large nucleus” of black Catholics throughout its history. In Washington, D.C., St. Augustine Catholic Church continues to serve its historic role as a center for black Catholicism.
Black Catholic history in St. Augustine, Florida dates back to its time as a Spanish colony where escaped slaves practiced the Catholic religion.
Brown has also studied the lives of black Catholics she considers “saints in waiting.”
These include Father Augustus Tolton, a former slave who became the first recognizable black priest in the United States before his death in 1897 at the age of 43. He had to go to seminary in Rome because no American seminary would accept him due to his race.
“He had some job on his hands when he put that collar on and walked down the street and told people about Holy Mother Church,” Brown said. “What a job! I know that he suffered from that. He suffered greatly for it, and I believe went to an early grave for it.”
Brown also praised the examples of Venerable Pierre Touissant, a former slave who lived a life of charity in 19th century New York City, and Ven. Henrietta DeLille, the New Orleans woman who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family.
Servant of God Mary Lange, the Cuban-born co-founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, advanced religious and vocational education in Baltimore, Maryland. She taught black children at a time when they were not being educated. In 1828 she founded St. Francis Academy, which still continues operations in Baltimore.
Brown said that black clergy and vowed religious “represented a beacon of hope for the community” and this role continues today.
“They set out to show the role for black Catholics by making a contribution to the Catholic Church,” she said. “They set out to show that people of color are holy men and women, and that God has a place at the altar for all of us.”
Brown saluted black clergy because of the challenges they faced historically and some still face today.
“Not because they aren't smart enough. Not because they are not holy enough. God knows who he is calling to do his holy work. There may be some challenges there, racial challenges and otherwise, that these men are called to overcome. And they do.”
Brown saw “plentiful and vast” opportunities for black Catholic leadership to emerge, especially in religious vocations. She said there is especially an opportunity for black Catholic families to “pull together and lead the way for other families.”
Black Catholic families face many of the same cultural challenges posed by 21st century media and society.
“Our Church is counter-cultural right now,” she said, “That’s a major, major, major challenge.”
“We need our families so in love with the Church that they have to support their sons becoming priests and they have to support and advocate for their daughters to become religious sisters,” she urged.
“We need our families so in love with Jesus and so in love with the Church that we are going to church together, sitting in the pews together,” she said. “We have to be at table praying, we have to be together saying our rosary. This is the time for us to pull our act together.”
Rome, Italy, Mar 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, a Spaniard who most recently served as provincial in southern Argentina, was elected rector major of the Salesians of St. John Bosco March 25.
“I abandon myself to the Lord,” Fr. Fernandez said upon his election. “We ask Don Bosco and Mary Help of Christians to accompany us and to accompany me, with my brother Salesians and with the Congregation, and I accept with faith.”
Fr. Fernandez was born in Gozon-Luanco in Spain in 1960, and made his first profession in 1978. He took perpetual profession in 1984, and was ordained a priest in 1987. He holds a doctorate in pastoral theology, and a licentiate in philosophy and pedagogy.
He has served the congregation as youth ministry delegate, director of the school at Ourense, member of the provincial council, and as vice provincial, and then provincial from 2000 to 2006, of Leon.
In 2009, he was appointed Salesian provincial for southern Argentina, a post he held until his election as rector major. It was in this capacity that he came to know, and worked with, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires.
He had been appointed in December as head of the new Seville province, though it has been impeded by his election as rector major.
According to a source in the Salesian congregation who spoke with CNA the day of the election, Fr. Fernandez was chosen with respect to his knowledge of Pope Francis and of the Roman Pontiff’s sense of mission, with the congregation demonstrating its desire to follow in the Pope’s missionary path.
Fr. Fernandez was chosen on the first ballot of the Salesians’ 27th General Chapter, the theme of which is “witness of the radicality of the Gospel: work and temperance,” focusing on missions.
According to the source, the discussions in the general chapter were around two possible profiles for the new rector major: the first was of someone able to perpetuate the charisma of the congregation, and who would at the same time show an affinity with Pope Francis.
The second profile was to choose someone from a young Church, as happened during the last general chapter, when Fr. Pascual Chavez Villanueva, from Mexico, was elected.
The discussion about possible candidates was initially stuck on the names of Fr. Francesco Cereda, regulator of the general chapter, and Fr. Fabio Attard, general councilor for youth ministry, considered the most important post in the Salesians, after that of the rector major.
As rector major, Fr. Fernandez will oversee the Salesians’ celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of their founder, St. John Bosco.
The celebrations will begin Aug. 16, 2014, and will end Aug. 16, 2015. In the midst of celebration, an exposition of the Shroud of Turin will take place, and it is possible Pope Francis will visit Turin next May to venerate the Shroud and take part in celebrating St. John Bosco.
The Salesians are present in 132 countries, and have more than 10,00 priests and 15,000 religious.
Vatican City, Mar 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis held an audience with the blind and deaf on Saturday, encouraging them to become witnesses of Christ and to build a culture of encounter rather than exclusion.
“We think of the many whom Jesus wanted to meet, above all people marked by illness and disability, to heal them and to restore their full dignity to them. It is very important that such persons become witnesses of a new approach, that we could call a ‘culture of encounter,’” the Pontiff said to those gathered in Paul VI Audience Hall March 29.
He recalled two gospel stories: Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman, who exemplifies “the type of person that Jesus loved to meet, to make his witness: people who were marginalized, excluded, despised,” and Christ’s healing of the man born blind.
Despite the animosity of the Pharisees, Jesus heals the man who was blind from birth. This man, in turn, testifies to Christ’s healing power.
“The remarkable thing is that this man, starting from what had happened to him, became a witness of Jesus and of his work, that is the work of God, of life, of love, of mercy,” reflected Pope Francis.
“In effect, only those who recognize their own fragility, their own limits, can build fraternal relations of solidarity, in the Church and in society.”
This culture of encounter exemplified by Christ stands in stark contrast to “the culture of exclusion, of prejudice.”
Someone who has met the Lord “who has known him, or better, has felt knowledge of him, recognition, respect, love, forgiveness,” has had an encounter which “has touched him profoundly, has filled him with a new joy, a new significance for life. And this shines through, communicates itself, is transmitted to others,” explained Pope Francis.
“The sick or disabled person, precisely from his fragility, from his limits, can become a witness to encounter: the encounter with Jesus that unfolds to life and to faith, and the encounter with others, with the community.”
The Pope urged the blind and deaf who had gathered to meet with him, “let yourselves encounter Jesus.” He said only Jesus “truly knows the heart of man, only he can free us from shutting down and from fruitless pessimism and open us to life and to hope.”
Jakob Badde, a deaf man who attended Saturday’s audience, told CNA he was surprised at “how many people came, how excited they were, and the emotion.” He also noted “the patience of the Pope, how relaxed he was.”
Badde expressed his hope that the Saturday meeting will be the start of something more in the future. “I hope Pope Francis will improve relations with the deaf (community), and then he will also realize what technical needs there are.”
The young man from Germany added that the excitement of today’s meeting was marred only by a lack of translators using sign language in various languages: only Italian sign language was used.
“I have the feeling and the joy, but without the message,” he lamented.
Nonetheless, he said, the audience was “a beautiful encounter” with “this excitement, this passion, and then this quiet, great person.”
“I’ve never seen something like this,” he reflected.
Vatican City, Mar 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On Saturday the Pontifical Council for the Family sponsored a day of reflection on the family as the custodian of the created world.
“We wanted to promote a day of reflection with the organization Greenaccord, on the theme ‘Family, Safeguard the Creation!’,” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told CNA March 29.
“In this time in the Church there is much reflection on the theme of the family,” he explained. “We thought it was important also to link the theme of the family to that of safeguarding creation, under two perspectives.”
The first, he said, is the importance of the family’s responsibility for the created world, “to be attentive to respect creation, to not destroy, not squander, not ruin the life that surrounds us, because all of this comes full circle.”
Just as the family takes care of the created world, the created world is the space where the family grows, the archbishop reflected. The family “safeguards creation, because creation safeguards the family.”
The second perspective is that of practicality. “Safeguarding creation is not an abstract or theoretical thing,” Archbishop Paglia stressed. Families must be attentive to the world around them in a practical way, “not only for themselves but for future generations.”
The archbishop went on to lament the “dictatorship of commerce” that hinders a “life of solidarity.” Instead, if there is less “pressure to consume” the result is “wiser relationships amongst persons.”
Archbishop Paglia also noted that he sees a “contradiction among families who must safeguard the creation” -- that of “not generating life.”
“What will there be if we don’t plant more trees?” he asked metaphorically. “If there are fewer children, there is less development. There is more sadness, more violence.”
“This is why families have the first responsibility to give life. They must understand that to give life means also to do so in fact! It’s not abstract - give it with children and not with theory. In this sense, the family safeguards creation also in the measure in which they obey that which the Lord said at the beginning: be fruitful and multiply, and safeguard the creation.”
The all-day program, held at the Vatican’s St. Pius X Conference Hall, included talks on topics such as “Agriculture as a life choice for young families,” “For a responsible and people-oriented economy,” and “The family’s vulnerability to consumerism.”
Gary Gardner, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington D.C., was a speaker at today’s event.
Gardner told CNA that “we live in an era where there are many, many threats to, I would say without exaggeration, to civilization as we know it, and the Church has a very important role, and the family has a very important role, to play in addressing those threats.”
He noted that in addition to environmental issues such as climate change, there is a cultural belief “that consuming more is what life is all about.”
Yet there are many practical ways that families can “preserve the creation” and also build healthier relationships, Gardner noted.
He suggested that families might engage in a “carbon fast” during Lent, seeking to consume less, or perhaps do something simple like plant a garden.
“You’re getting the kids involved and they’re learning about the importance of soil health and insects and the worms that live in the soil and how that relates to a plentiful crop that comes out of the garden, and that in turn relates to our own health. It’s a wonderful way to bring the family together and almost without realizing it, care for creation,” said Gardner.
“These are activities that are good not only for the environment but for strengthening the family,” he noted.