September 1, 2023 | National & World News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Delegates of the Diocese of Owensboro stand with Fr. Norman A. Fischer, Jr., a Black Catholic priest of the Diocese of Lexington, in front of an image of Our Lady of Kibeho at the July 20-23, 2023 National Black Catholic Congress. COURTESY OF VERONICA WILHITE

‘A prophetic call to thrive’

Black Catholics of western Kentucky attend National Black Catholic Congress


Six Black Catholics from the Diocese of Owensboro traveled to Washington, D.C. from July 20-23, 2023, to join over 3,000 Black Catholics from all over the U.S. at the National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC).  Founded in 1987 and set to convene every five years this congress was delayed from 2022 due to COVID issues according to Valerie Washington, the NBCC’s executive director.

The theme “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive” was drawn from a verse in the book of the prophet Habakkuk: “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write down the vision; Make it plain upon tablets, so that one who reads it may run. For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will be late. See, the rash have no integrity; but the one who is righteous because of the faith shall live’ (Habakkuk 2:2-4).”

The nation’s first Black cardinal, Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., gave the keynote address and celebrated the opening Unity Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Owensboro diocese delegates were Stacey Braxton (St. Charles Parish, Bardwell), Carol and Dianne Hatchett (Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Owensboro), Joan Meadows (Immaculate Parish, Owensboro), Marcella Wilhite (Blessed Mother Parish, Owensboro) and Veronica Wilhite, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

Braxton summed up her first-time experience thus: “During the three days, we were growing in our faith and obtaining wisdom so that we can have the courage to share our testimony with others. We should start our vision plan to thrive with each act of love that is shared among our neighbors. We can grow as one body in Christ when we learn from one another. We are one human race. We worshiped and heard different testimonies of how other believers overcame their storms. This was also a time for reflection. Each one of us has gifts and talents. How we use them can bring people into the church as we serve the Lord. We need to ask ourselves, through our actions in our daily lives, how can others see our faith?”

While the challenges of being Black and Catholic are even more visible in the face of our nations increasing racial division, sadly we are the least likely ethnic group in the U.S. to remain Catholic. This affects our faith in many ways. Dialogues with other Catholics who are also experiencing the loss of the Black parish and the lack of vocations in the Black community stand out from this meeting. All six attendees were profoundly affected by the visible presence of Black clergy and religious and appreciated the opportunity to interact personally with Black Americans who have responded to the call to serve God’s people as priests, brothers, and sisters. The tremendous number of laity serving was also noted. Organizations such as the Josephites, the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver, Xavier University of Louisiana, the Oblate Sisters and the Sisters of the Holy Family are just a few of the organizations who were present to share their stories and invitations to engage.

Marcella Wilhite commented that she had never seen Black sisters or priests in her life or experienced such a gathering of Black Catholics: “It was validating and enlightening.”

At the closing gathering, we were all surprised at the volume of the response by our youth to the question “Please come forward if you have and are considering a vocation to the religious life?” Tears of surprise and joy filled the eyes in the room as it seemed that over 50 young Black Catholics came forward. As we blessed and prayed over these young people our faith was renewed and we left with a resolve to pray for our church, for vocations and for our nation. The theme of Congress had been fulfilled in our hearts and we left joyfully knowing that we had written the vision and heard the prophetic call to thrive. Finally, the invitation was issued and the response was resounding!

To learn more about Black Catholic Ministry in the Diocese of Owensboro, contact Veronica Wilhite at (270) 683-1545 or [email protected].

Marcella Wilhite (center), a parishioner of Blessed Mother Parish in Owensboro, stands with two Black Catholic religious sisters at the July 2023 National Black Catholic Congress. Left is Sr. Josephine Garrett of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth; right is Sr. Isabelle Maina of the Franciscan Sisters of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. COURTESY OF VERONICA WILHITE

Originally printed in the September 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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