A Message from Dr. Chiquita T. Tuttle,
Coordinator, African American Pastoral Center
What Does it Mean to be Black and Catholic?
I have often asked the question of my fellow Black Catholics; how many of our Black Catholics understand what we mean when we say Black Theology? Can we relate that meaning to catholic social teaching? What about our young students and adults, do they understand Black Theology? How can we make the topic of Black Theology relatable and understandable?
There are several agencies within the church that address this subject and have worked hard to keep it top of mind. “Top of mind” is awareness. It’s a measure of how aware a consumer is of a brand, for example. It is part of consumer behavior and is a key aspect of market research and marketing communications.
Organizations like the National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC), The National Black Catholic Clergy (NBCCC), The Institute of Black Catholic studies at Xavier University (IBCS), The Journal of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, who published Theology: A Portrait in Black, 2006 and Black Catholic Messenger, have provided definitions and explanations of this topic.
Throughout this month, I busied myself reading numerous articles by incredible writers like Rev. Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., author of The History of Black Catholics in the United States (a must for your library), Thaddeus J. Pose, F.M, CAP, author of Theology: A Portrait in Black. I’ve also read articles written by Sister Eva Lumas, Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow of the Institute of Black Studies at Xavier University, and Rachel Swarns, author of “The 272” (another must for your library) to increase my knowledge of what is Black Theology.
My focus and purpose for doing this research is to develop a plan where the African American pastoral center can make an impact through education and communication. I believe the subject of Black Theology is critical to our understanding of where we have come from, who we are, our contributions and gifts to the church, and where we need to be in the future within the Universal Catholic Church.
What I have discerned is that awareness of Black Theology and spirituality needs to be raised for many Black Catholics. So, the question becomes, how do we do this? One way is to convene a presentation and invite subject area specialists to speak on the subject for us. Specialists like Dr. Toinette Eugene, Sister Eva Lumas, Fr. Leo Edgerly, and Fr. Ken Hamilton, to name a few. By doing so, it also addresses the contributions that black Catholics have made, and can make, to the Universal Catholic Church and specifically to the Diocese of Oakland.
We cannot forget the famous presentation made by Servant of God, Sister Thea Bowman when she addressed the Congress of Bishops in 1989. Her words have been repeated many times but are clearly worthy of repeating here for your discernment.
“What does it mean to be Black and Catholic? (Published June 1989 Sub Committee on African American Affair) It means that I come to my church fully functioning. That doesn’t frighten you, does it? I come to my church fully functioning. I bring myself; my black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility – as gifts to the Church. I bring a spirituality that our Black- American bishops told us that spirituality is contemplative and biblical and holistic, bringing to religion a totality of mind and imagination of memory, of feeling and passion, and emotion and intensity. A faith that is embodied incarnate praise – a spirituality that knows how to find joy even in the time of sorrow – that steps out on faith that leans on the lord. A spirituality that is commoner – that tries to walk and talk and work and pray and play together.”
Over the next month, I will extend an invitation to the Black Catholic community in the Diocese of Oakland to attend a listening session where we can share the vision of the AAPC, hear what you seek, and need to grow your spirituality and knowledge about our contributions to the Catholic Church. We will also speak to leadership roles and ministries within our parishes about how we might collaborate and partner.
Cardinal John Huston Ricard said at the most recent National Black Catholic Congress that we must not let the fire die out relative to our presence, contribution, and gifts to the church. I look forward to us working together to growing our community again and bringing our young adults to our ministries. Let’s work to keep that fire eternally lit!