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Andrew Lyke is the Director of the Office for Black Catholics. He and his wife are co-founders of ArusiNetwork. From 1999 to 2009 he was the Coordinator of Marriage Ministry for the Archdiocese.

Monday, August 08, 2011

How Can the Catholic Church be “Good News” in the Black Community Today?

A compelling irony that drives my energies as the Director of the Office for Black Catholics is that in Chicago, a city founded by a Black Catholic (Jean Baptiste Point du Sable), a city with a vibrant Black community, a city where the Black church has much muscle, and a city that’s so very Catholic, to be Black and Catholic today is predominantly an impoverished experience. When people talk about about the awesomeness of the Catholic Church they don’t mean us. Nor do they mean us when referring to the power base of the Black church in America. Black Catholics in Chicago and throughout the United States are marginal on both counts.

The Archdiocese’s burgeoning Black Catholic community in the 1940s through the 1970s had much to do with Catholic schools. The upward mobility of Black people depended on quality education, and many families opted for a Catholic education for their children. Meeting that practical need in the community, the Catholic parishes in Black neighborhoods attracted many to their pews.

In the 1970s and through the 1980s, what I consider the heyday of the Black Catholic Movement, the several predominantly Black parishes were concentrated on the West and South sides of Chicago. Among the parishioners was a strong and cohesive identity as Black Catholics, one that transcended parish identity. For Black Catholics there was a sense of belonging in any of those parishes. The awakened life force that flowed out of the Civil Rights Movement and in the shadow of Vatican II resonated throughout the community and generated a sense of greatness in being Black and Catholic.

Sadly that greatness seems to have dissipated. Many of those parishes and schools that drew so many into the faith have closed. When a parish or school closes something dies in the community it served. The number of Black Catholics is no longer rising but shrinking. And most of the parishes serving in those South and West side communities today are struggling.

How do we harness the historical significance of Du Sable, the vibrancy of the Black community, the muscle of the Black church, and the ubiquity of the Catholic Church for a new and fresh evangelization in the Archdiocese of Chicago? What practical needs in the Black community today can be met through the resources of the Catholic Church? Essentially, how can the Catholic Church be really Good News in the Black community today? Perhaps we haven’t told well our story. Perhaps the current cause for canonization for Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first Black priest to serve in the United States, and who served his last years of ministry here in Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century, can generate new enthusiasm in the Black Catholic community and the broader Catholic community of the Archdiocese. Your input is greatly appreciated.

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Comments

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 11:30 AM

I think the issue at hand is a lack of catechesis. I don't mean religious education but authentic echoing of God's salvific message. The pastors in our community (both black and white) have spent so much time making the parish "look black" or making us feel African that the Gospel message has been left behind. Why would a family make the sacrifice to send their child to a Catholic school if nothing is different about it than the charter school down the street. Why would a person get up early on Sunday morning to hear how wonderful it is to be Black and Catholic, we already know that. The problem has been that the "leaders" in the Catholic community in the African-American community are still ministering as if it's 1970. The problem is that young people do not share those same experiences nor do young people share the passion of the Civil Rights Movement, it's history to our youth, like the Revolutionary War, something that came and went. If we want to minister and evangelize in the 2000's we need to get outside and find out about the people surrounding our parishes and actually TEACH what the Church teaches, if we don't we might as well pack up and leave!

Devin J.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 1:12 PM

The first "church" for children and teens is their home. So, mothers and fathers are the first preachers and catechists. Church or school is the second sources. Let’s look at our families...! How many children are raised by single mother or grandparents? Children have been hurt by the closest people in their life, because they abundant them.

ewa c.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 12:35 PM

The Chicago Black Catholic Church is facing the same issues as HBCUs, African-American Fraternities and Sororities, print and visual media, businesses etc.

I was born, raised and nurtured in Chicago and like many now live in Suburbia. I contiue to worship at my home church of Holy Angels though St Anthony is withing walking distance of my adopted home of Frankfort. I along with my wife make this weekly trek past MANY churches Afican - American and other. I think the African-American Church and many of these other organizations need to retool and remarket themselves to the next generation who did not buy into like we did. Though of us who continue to attend..are for lack of better words completely immersed and self identified and defined by our years of Catholic school attendance, participation in the Catholic lifestyle etc. Many of us would get healthcare at a Mercy Hospital or want to attend a Notre Dame for no reason other then it was Catholic.

Today's young people did not get that and need constant validation that what they learned is true.

Couple that with the fact that grandparents and parents of Catholic children often let their kids who they spent much money on raising them in the Chicago Catholic school off the hook with multiple ecxuses of why they or their children don't at least attend mass regularly.

However those of us who do attend an African-American churches regularly need to listen to our youth when they point out specifics as to why they prefer Trinity, Apostolic, House of Hope or Pastor Hannah's Church,etc

We are the body of Christ that is the church but need to be willing to make changes in our parishes that still follow the Catholic church but tend to the needs of a emerging and evolving African American community.The body is getting old!

Many youth actally believe that there is one Catholic Church and are very content in the suburban churches of Infant Jesus of Prague, St Lawrence O Toole, St Joseph of Homewood etc. And guess what..they are very happy!

Even more to the point if the the youth need to change their faith to have their needs addressed or stay at home at home and watch Joel Ostein or Joyce Meyer on TV..they will do that also.

We need to be honest and admit that WE are failing as African-American to support our institutions when they are worthy of support. They don't deserve support just because they are balck or have been around a long time

If we don't change we will continue to here think that EBONY and Jet won't evolve into internet internet publication, or Calumet Meat aka Moo and Oink currently struggling won't get bought out by some large company that wants OUR dollars. Tenessee State University is currently recruiting primarily non Blacks to its College of Engineering.

We can continue to point out the flaws of these entities or do as the nuumber of non African-African who have joined organizations like my beloved Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity inc, the oldest of the Divine Nine. To their credit , they often seek out and joined in order to support something rich in OUR history. What's happening to Jazz? What's happening to Hip Hop? What's happening to all of the Black haircare companies that used to be here? Don't black people still need their hair taken care of?

We are the conservators of the African-American Catholic legacy and therefore have to step up to the challenge or not complain instead of folding into the larger society without as much as a whimper.


Sincerely,
Keith P. Wilson DDS, still African -American, Catholic and driving to the Southside.

Keith W.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 5:49 PM

The challenge before the Black Community is the same faced by Catholic Church At-Large, and the solutions to regaining this once proud status could be summed up by following the "A Simple Prayer" by St. Francis; 'Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...'(as this prayer starts). There is a need to invest in our youth and in the community infrastructure to re-build the spiritual bridges which were hallmarks of the Black community growth and expansion.

Gerry S.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 11:00 AM

I like a lot of what you have said. I think this is a good critical question for Black Catholics to ponder, "how can the Catholic Church be really Good News in the Black community today?" For many reasons, the Catholic Church has become the good news for our spanish brothers and sisters. Does the Catholic Church have anything left to share with Black Catholics? We need to show up next year in Indiana, for Congress and put these and other questions on the table. I feel that the Catholic Church do have something to offer to Black Catholics...Jesus!

Michael H.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011 3:11 PM

I say, "AMEN!!!" to your blog. My suggestion is this (among) other things, . . . that the Black Catholic Community recommit itself to the development of excellent youth and young adult ministry programming. This is epecially relevant in this, the "Year of the Youth and Young Adult" in our diocese.

We can indeed build-up again from the ground up just as was the case in the 1940's - the 1970's. However this time, our communities cannot rely primarily on Catholic schools as feeders. And we certainly cannot employ 20th Century ideologies and strategies if we are to have any hope of relating to 21st Century young people and such pressing contemporary issues. This is the time and place for us to reorder our thinking, attitudes and outreach to evangelize and serve a whole new generation. Our collective history and future hopes are hanging in the balance and the Holy Spirit is compelling us.

Vincent G.

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