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Black Catholics participateed in a revival in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia in this undated photo.
Black Catholics participateed in a revival in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia in this undated photo.
Photo Credit: Sarah Webb | CatholicPhilly.com

Black Catholic spirituality a positive force in fight against racism

Black Catholic pastors point to strength from prayer and the Eucharist, look for more leaders of color

PHILADELPHIA — Two Black Catholic pastors in Philadelphia say their parishes are drawing strength from the Eucharist, prayer and a rich spiritual heritage in the fight against racism.

“St. Katharine Drexel used to say, ‘We go in to go out,’” said Father Stephen Thorne, pastor of St. Martin de Porres in North Philadelphia. “What she meant was that (our time with) the Blessed Sacrament gives us the energy to go forth and do justice.”

“Black Catholics continue to lead first through prayer,” said Msgr. Federico Britto, pastor of St. Cyprian Parish and administrator of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in West Philadelphia. “Our culture is one of prayer, which is very celebratory in our liturgies. And we are hoping that through prayer, we will be heard, and there will be transformation and resolution.”

Both Msgr. Britto and Father Thorne said that prayer is the natural starting point for eradicating racial inequality, since racism itself is a sin, as the U.S. bishops stated in their 2018 pastoral letter on the issue.

Without addressing the moral root of the problem, external actions — such as protesting and reassessing historical figures — are incomplete and often without lasting effect, Father Thorne told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“The hard work is changing hearts and minds,” he said. “You have to know that you won’t be at God’s banquet table in the kingdom if you’re a racist, because it goes against God’s nature.”

The Church itself must confront racism in the pews, said both pastors.

“Black Catholics know racism exists in Churches,” said Msgr. Britto. “Even though the bishops have spoken about it, it’s still a systemic issue.”

In particular, he said, there is a need for more men and women of color in religious life and pastoral leadership.

“If Black Catholics see people of color in leadership roles, that says to them, ‘OK, maybe there is a possibility here in the Catholic Church,’” said Msgr. Britto.

Several canonized and potential saints have already helped to pioneer the Church’s path toward equality for all its members, said Msgr. Britto and Father Thorne.

Born in Peru to a Spanish father and a Black mother (1579-1639), St. Martin de Porres has long been a patron of Black Catholics. In recent years, he has been joined by a growing number of role models, including: Pierre Toussaint, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Mother Henriette Delille, Julia Greeley, Sister Thea Bowman and Father Augustus Tolton.

Following international outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under police restraint, some parishes are beginning to team up to tackle systemic racism head-on.

Parishioners from St. Martin de Porres and from St. John Chrysostom Parish in Wallingford plan to meet in a virtual town hall in late June to discuss the issue. St. Raymond of Penafort Parish also has announced its pastoral team is developing an online series of reflections about racism and its impact.

Such conversations also should focus on the richness of Black Catholic spirituality and how it nurtures the entire body of Christ, said Msgr. Britto and Father Thorne.

“Martin de Porres, Tolton, Thea Bowman — these people didn’t look at themselves as victims, but as children of God, with gifts to offer and gifts to bring to the Church,” Msgr. Britto said. “Our music, our worship, our understanding of Scripture, our care for the poor: We share our gifts and our victories.”

Racism needs ‘honest discussion,’ not destruction, says Abp. Cordileone

By Catholic News Service

A vandalized statue of St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco is seen June 19. The Spanish Franciscan founded several missions in what is now California. He also has been the subject of criticism by some for his treatment of native peoples and the impact of Spanish colonization.
Photo Credits: David Zandman | Reuters
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco’s archbishop said June 20 the “toppling and defacing” of a statue of St. Junipero Serra and other statues in the city’s Golden Gate Park is the latest example of some people using the current movement against racial injustice as a reason for violence, looting and vandalism.

“The memorialization of historic figures merits an honest and fair discussion as to how and to whom such honor should be given,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone. “But here, there was no such rational discussion; it was mob rule, a troubling phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself throughout the country.”

The Mercury News daily newspaper reported that the night of June 19, a group of about 100 protesters toppled the Serra statue as well as statues of Francis Scott Key and President Ulysses S. Grant and defaced a monument to Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote.”

The protesters’ action are being repeated around the country as demonstrators in a number of U.S. cities topple statues of Confederate generals and other figures from U.S. history that they consider monuments to white supremacy.

“What is happening to our society?” asked Archbishop Cordileone. “A renewed national movement to heal memories and correct the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country has been hijacked by some into a movement of violence, looting and vandalism.”

St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis Sept. 23, 2015, during his pastoral visit to Washington, is known for spreading the Gospel in the New World during the 18th century.

The Franciscan priest landed in Mexico, then made his way on foot up the coast of Mexico and to California, where he established a chain of missions that are now the names of well-known cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Barbara. He was the first president of the California mission system, and personally founded nine of the state’s 21 missions. It is estimated that during his ministry, St. Junipero Serra baptized about 6,000 native people.

In 2015, some people objected to the canonization of the Spaniard, like critics did of his beatification in 1988, because of questions about how Father Serra treated the native peoples of California and about the impact of Spanish colonization on native peoples throughout the America.

“Everyone who works for justice and equality joins in the outrage of those who have been and continue to be oppressed. It is especially true that followers of Jesus Christ — Christians –- are called to work tirelessly for the dignity of all human beings. This is a cornerstone of our faith,” Archbishop Cordileone said.

The archbishop said the saint “made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers,” he said.

“St. Junipero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care and training in the agrarian arts,” he added.

However, the archbishop acknowledged that “historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of goodwill, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed.”

“Historical wrongs cannot be righted by keeping them hidden,” he said, noting that historical wrongs also cannot be righted “by rewriting the history.”

“Anger against injustice can be a healthy response when it is that righteous indignation which moves a society forward. But as Christ Himself teaches, and St. Francis modeled, love and not rage (are) the only answer,” Archbishop Cordileone said.

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