‘People are crying out’
Chika Anyanwu, a Catholic speaker and evangelist from California, spoke about the loneliness that Black Catholics can sometimes experience, being such a minority in the United States. She said at her parish, she is very often the only Black person in attendance at both Sunday and daily Mass.
She also noted that despite the progress she has seen in the past few years, racism remains “a life or death situation for a lot of people.”
“We’re three years from George Floyd, but we’re just a few weeks from the last shooting of a young Black man. And it’s almost like there are times where you feel like you’re shouting into the void and it’s like, ‘Is anyone hearing?’ And that’s really hard,” Anyanwu told CNA in early January.
“People are crying out and not being heard.”
Anyanwu, who is of Nigerian descent, said she continues to experience instances of “unfortunate” and “hurtful” displays of prejudice — even, occasionally, from fellow Catholics. That being said, Anyanwu said she has seen in the years since George Floyd a willingness among many Catholics to take action to combat racism, particularly at the parish level. Some parishes have held listening sessions and dialogues to talk about racism, for example.
“What is the Church doing well? The Church is listening. But there’s so much active listening that you can do before you take action,” she noted.
One important action that some Church leaders have taken, she said, is taking care to hire a diverse range of people — and not just in terms of race.
“So whether it’s hiring people of color, hiring women, those with disabilities, those who are differently abled… all of that,” she noted.
“Your church should look like the community, because your parish isn’t just those who are in the pews, it’s the geographical boundaries.”
‘Jesus Christ is sufficient’
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Johnson also spoke about the importance of welcoming and celebrating Black Catholics, who make up a very small minority of Catholics in the United States overall. But in cities like Chicago and Baltimore, many vibrant parishes have served the Black Catholic community for centuries.
A survey released last year found that Black Catholics are significantly less likely than other Catholics — and also less likely than Black Protestants — to attend a church where most of the other parishioners are of the same race or ethnicity they are. Black Catholics also tend to travel farther to get to Mass than their white or Hispanic counterparts, with 41% saying they have to travel more than 15 minutes to get to Mass.
Many of the Black Catholics whom Johnson encounters say they feel unwelcome or neglected by the Catholic Church — “that’s just a fact,” he said. But the most important reason to stay in the Catholic Church is Jesus himself in the Eucharist, Johnson said. Jesus offers an example of persevering through suffering, Johnson said, as do many of the holy Black men and women currently being considered for sainthood.
“My encouragement for [Black Catholics] is to pray, as well, because Jesus Christ is sufficient. God is enough. So even if the community that surrounds us is the only Catholic church in our area, even if they persecute us, Jesus was persecuted and he was misunderstood. And he was mocked, and he was abandoned, and he was betrayed, and he was rejected, and so there’s an intimacy with Christ in that to be experienced.”
Johnson said people who, like him, work continually for racial reconciliation in the Church may not see in their lifetimes the fruits of their labors. But he encouraged everyone to continue striving for holiness, even through adversity.
“We might not see the visible fruit in our lifetime, but the fruit is there, even if it’s invisible. Even if I cannot see the fruit of my labor in the Church for racial reconciliation, I feel like God has called me to be a saint,” the priest said.