Delegates from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee (from left, in white t-shirts) Simon Biagui, Fr. Peter Patrick Kimani, Papa Kwesi Yorke and Jacquelyn Coleman socialize during the National Black Catholic Congress this summer in Maryland. (Submitted photo)
The theme for the 13th National Black Catholic Congress — held this summer in National Harbor, Maryland — was “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive.”
The NBCC began in 1889 and was attended by 200 delegates who met with President Grover Cleveland and Fr. Augustus Tolton (up for sainthood), and celebrated High Mass.
The mission of the NBCC is to witness and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ; enrich the Church by evangelizing African Americans within and outside the Church; enhance African Americans’ physical and spiritual well-being as full members of the Church and society; and create an ongoing agenda for evangelizing African Americans.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee sponsored 17 delegates, and an additional seven people attended independently.
“The XIII Black Catholic Congress was a faith enhancing experience for many of the Milwaukee delegates,” said Simon Biagui, a delegate to the Congress. “The event that bears a comparison to the energy and excitement generated by the NBCC was when the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship in 2021. More than 3,000 Black Catholics from all over the world gathered because of their love for Christ and to be strengthened in their Catholic identity and love for one another.”
The NBCC currently occurs every five years, and African and African American Catholics came together in Maryland in the name of Catholicism, spirituality, formation, growth and connectedness. The Congress offers a unique opportunity to commune with people from around the globe (religious and laity) and to share our stories of joy, hope, struggle, and love of God and the Church. Those who gather bear witness to liturgies, prayer services, workshops and national speakers who speak to who we are as Catholics of African descent. The bonds that connect us as a community are nurtured, fed and strengthened during our time together.
However, the Congress is more than fellowship (both spiritual and mental); it is about challenging ourselves and all those we encounter to live out our baptismal promises. It is about walking with the young person thinking about religious life or priesthood; it is about the importance of learning and sharing the history of who we are and our contributions to the Church. It is about knowing and believing that we (God’s children) have gifts to share and bring to the table. It is about finding our voice and talent to support the building up of the Kingdom of God. This is our story, this is our song, praising our Savior and loving our neighbor all the day long.
The fruits of our work and time together are synthesized and become the national pastoral plan for African American Catholics. This document is shared throughout the country. Each of us who attended the Congress is tasked with sharing the plan and working with our pastors, fellow attendees, parishioners and archdiocesan offices to advance it in our locale in ways relevant to our archdiocese.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory delivered the opening keynote address, “The Eucharist: Our Prophetic Call to Love,” to a gathering of more than 3,000 African and African American Catholics who attended this year’s NBCC.
The Office for Urban Ministry of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sponsored rosary bags with rosaries for Congress XIII. The pride and joy felt by the Milwaukee participants upon seeing the rosary and our logo on the big screen during the opening session was immense. Participants from other dioceses expressed the same sentiment.
The Congress workshops offer opportunities for professional development, spiritual growth, mental and physical well-being, vocation awareness and discernment, intergenerational formation, networking, pro-life and racial justice movements, stewardship, evangelization and more.
“For three days, Black Catholics shared strategies to strengthen our Catholic identity, evangelize, then overcome many of the daily challenges that have gotten worse since COVID through solidarity and stewardship,” said Biagui.
The NBCC also has a Daniel Rudd Fund that provides grants to organizations involved in ministry to Black Catholics. This grant aims to financially assist new and existing programs that promote the Gospel within parishes, schools and communities.
In addition to working with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Black Catholic Congress collaborates with organizations for Black Catholic scholars, priests, deacons, consecrated religious, seminarians and laypeople.
One notable organization is the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, a national interdisciplinary theological society of the Roman Catholic tradition. The symposium was established to foster among Black Catholics an ethical community of scholarly dialogue characterized by a commitment to the fundamental humanity of all persons, and regard for the plurality of cultural and ethnic backgrounds and religious experience among Black peoples.
The work and charge to “Write the Vision” continues. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Black Catholic Ministry Commission, chaired by Mary Words, organized post-Congress gatherings to glean ideas, suggestions and opportunities to advance the Archdiocesan Black Catholic Pastoral Plan and that of the National Black Catholic Congress.
Shanedra Johnson is the director of the Office of Urban Ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. If you are interested in the events and programs offered by the Black Catholic Ministry Commission and the Office of Urban Ministry, contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-758-2215. You can find more affiliated organizations for the NBCC at https://nbccongress.org/affiliated-organizations.