As we near the end of 2020, perhaps most of us are eager to see the completion of a troubling year that has brought great trials and deep pain to so many. And yet, even at this challenging time of COVID-19, job losses and civil strife, we have much for which to be grateful to God when we gather this month to celebrate Thanksgiving – whether in person or virtually.
In addition to our lives, we have the blessings of family, friends and faith. As Catholics, we also have Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. The very word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek for “Thanksgiving.” The absence earlier this year of public Mass, and the resulting separation from physical communion, makes us even more thankful for this incredible gift from God. Sometimes we do not fully appreciate what we have until we lose it.
Although our relationship with Jesus is personal, we celebrate the sacraments in the communal context of the Church. And, as we say in the Nicene Creed at Mass, the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Catholic means “universal.” The Church spans the globe, united by Christ’s teachings and the leadership of the Holy Father. In the Latin Church, we are also bound together by the same liturgical norms and Canon law.
In November, commemorated since 1990 as Black Catholic History Month in the United States, we are especially grateful for the universal nature of the Church as reflected in the strong faith of black American Catholics. One of the reasons this month was chosen for the observance is that November 3 is the feast day of St. Martin de Porres. Born in Lima, Peru, in 1579, he was the first black person in the Americas to be recognized as a saint when he was canonized by Pope St. John XXIII in 1962.
American history and the history of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati have been graced with the lives of many other saintly black Catholics – women and men who radiated Christ, often in the face of injustice and discrimination, even from within the Church. Some of them are on the path to canonization. You will read about that and many other inspiring stories of black Catholics in this issue of The Catholic Telegraph magazine.
In the archdiocese we can point with special pride to Daniel Rudd, founder of the National Black Catholic Congress and of a black Catholic newspaper, The American Catholic Tribune. Although he was born into slavery in Bardstown, KY, in 1854, and died there, he spent many productive years in Cincinnati. An active evangelist for the faith in the black community, he was quoted as saying the Catholic Church was “the only place on the Continent where rich and poor, white and black, must drop prejudice at the threshold and go hand in hand to the altar.” He also said: “The Catholic Church alone can break the color line. Our people should help her to do it.”
If we are to learn from history, however, it must be presented honestly. The Church was not free from the sin of racial discrimination in Daniel Rudd’s time, nor is it now. In its human dimension, the Church on earth still struggles to fully radiate Christ in respecting the life and dignity of each person. That is a continuing challenge for the entire Body of Christ, every one of us, not only those called to ordained leadership.
During this Black Catholic History Month, let us be thankful for the faithful witness of black Catholics over the centuries who embraced the Catholic Church and contributed mightily to it.