Since 1990, the Church in the United States has celebrated Black Catholic history during the month of November. Following the example of saints from the African continent, countless African American Catholics have helped shape the landscape of the Church in the United States for generations. In a video message to the faithful of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory encourages all Catholics to give thanks to God for what the Church has done in service to communities of color. But he also invites his flock to spend November learning more about the contributions African Americans make to the entire Church.
Archbishop Gregory’s apposite invitation comes at a time of unchartered racial instability. Diverse communities face the evil of violence and hatred daily. In their pastoral letter against racism published just last year, the American Bishops highlight the systemic racism which has engulfed the nation. The bishops write, “Racism has no place in the Christian heart. This evil causes great harm to victims and corrupts the souls of those who harbor racist or prejudicial thoughts” (Open Wide Our Hearts, 6). Sadly, the widespread effects of this evil often fall on deaf ears. “Too many good and faithful Catholics,” the bishops write, “remain unaware of the connection between institutional racism and the continued erosion of the sanctity of life” (Ibid., 10). The inviolable dignity of the human person applies to everyone, from conception to natural death. God does not offer more dignity to certain people above others. Learning about the contributions of communities diverse from one’s own can help heal inherent prejudices and promote the dignity of every human person. Black Catholic history month is a good place to start.