ORANGEBURG—Over 150 people, representing several of our historically African American parishes in the diocese, participated in a two-day celebration that focused on the gifts Black Catholics bring to the Church.
Holy Trinity hosted the gathering, “Blessed Are the Peace Makers: Racism, Social Justice and the Genius of Black Spirituality”, sponsored by the Office of Ethnic Ministries.
The weekend kicked off Feb. 1 with “A Dialogue on Race” to promote peace. Facilitators Kathleen Merritt, Michael Tran and Deacon James Williams led a discussion, based on the 2015 pastoral letter “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015”, by Bishop Edward K. Braxton, of Belleville, Ill.
Emotions filled the room as Holy Trinity Parishioner Doris Canty and others shared their memories of the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, when Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith and Delano Middleton were killed and 28 others were wounded by police gunfire at South Carolina State College. None of the students were armed.
“It’s OK to talk about history, however, getting involved now so that history does not repeat itself is necessary,” said Father Wilbroad Mwape, administrator of Holy Trinity.
Father Manuel B. Williams, director of Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Inc., and pastor of Resurrection Catholic Church in Montgomery, Ala., was the keynote speaker, and recalled growing up in segregated Alabama, and how he was never touched by a white person, not even his doctor.
“My [white] doctor paid a young black woman to do the touching and describe to him what she felt during examinations,” he explained.
Father Williams said it wasn’t until he attended a Catholic church and school that he experienced, for the first time, a white person physically touching him when the priest put his hands on his head to bless him. He noted that the Church has always been an advocate for civil rights and addressing the needs of the African American community.
Another speaker, Clifford Petty, pastoral musician at Resurrection church, demonstrated the genius of African American Spiritualty through his music and the evolution of Negro spirituals and gospel music and the use of drums and the sound of the bass.
His presentation ended with everyone on their feet singing “Lift ev’ry voice and sing” — often referred to as the Black National Anthem — by James Weldon Johnson. It is a tradition in the African American community to sing this song at programs culturally unique for African Americans, especially during Black History month.
The Heritage Mass was celebrated by Father Michael Okere, Vicar for Black Catholics, along with Father Wilbroad Mwape, Holy Trinity administrator; Father Henry Kulah, pastor of St. Patrick in Charleston; and Father Patrick Tuttle, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville.
During the homily, Father Williams compared the homeless refugees at the border to the Holy Family. He said immigration is a pro- life issue and empathically stressed the need for the Catholic Church to respond stronger than we are currently doing on this issue.
The genius of Black Spirituality could definitely be heard in the music during the Mass. The Heritage Choir, under the direction of Petty, led the congregation in song with a joyful voice indeed!
“The music was very new to me,” Father Mwape said. “In Africa, our music is different. This music is culturally unique for African American Catholics.”
After lunch, Deacons James Williams, Dexter Gourdin and Leland Cave shared their experience as deacons, spoke about the role their wives play and answered questions from the audience.
Questions ranged from what exactly they do in the parish, to how long it takes to become a deacon and how to apply.
“The introduction of the deacons gave the participants the opportunity to know who the black deacons are. [People] seemed surprised that we have so many,” Father Okere said.
A presentation was given by Father Tuttle highlighting notable statements in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide our Hearts.” His talk motivated the participants to embrace the document.
A youth track was facilitated by Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN. Youth ages 8 to 16 wrote a call and response spiritual rap for the adults to participate in that was enlightening and energizing.
One of the youth, Chelsea Gourdine, performed a liturgical dance following a presentation by Sister Roberta on African Americans on the Road to Sainthood.
“To be assembled with a large number of Black Catholics in a parish that has so few is most uplifting,” said Brenda Williams, a Holy Trinity parishioner. “It encouraged me to renew my commitment to the Catholic Church. I’m excited about the future of Black Catholic evangelization in our parish.”
Written by Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries.
Top photo: Father Manuel Williams, guest speaker, addresses the crowd at the event held at Holy Trinity Church in Orangeburg.