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Black Catholics are celebrated by Bishop Burbidge and others at a prayer service

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The Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington was filled with soulful Christian hymns and stories of famous Black Catholics during a Nov. 5 prayer service, entitled “Celebrating the Diversity of the Communion of Saints: Black Catholics on the Pathway to Sainthood.”

As part of the prayer service, members of the Arlington diocese took turns sharing the stories of saints and those on the path toward sainthood: St. Peter Claver, St. Martin de Porres; St. Katharine Drexel; Venerable Pierre Toussaint; Venerable Henriette Delille; Venerable Father Augustus Tolton; Servant of God Mother Mary Lange; Servant of God Julia Greeley; and Sister Thea Bowman.

“And if we do the same, then the fruits will be a very vibrant, faith-filled, service-oriented, united diocese as well as parishes, schools and communities without any form of racism, bias or discrimination.” - Bishop Michael F. Burbidge

“They are our powerful intercessors,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. “They help to show us the way to heaven and teach us how to become a saint.”

He said members of the diocesan Advisory Council on Racism ensured that two important goals were part of the recently announced Arlington diocese strategic plan: to improve recruiting efforts for vocations from all diocesan communities, and to celebrate ethnic richness and promote engagement across communities.

“We have to do a better job” attracting more diverse vocations, Bishop Burbidge said, “and tonight helps.” He added, “I’m praying real hard” that young, Black Catholics discerning God’s will are inspired by the stories of these saints to embrace religious life. 

The second goal was central to the prayer service, he added. 

“We’re celebrating the unity, the universality of the one holy Catholic and apostolic church.”

The Black Catholic saints and those on the path to sainthood should be an inspiration to everyone walking their earthly pilgrimage, Bishop Burbidge said. 

“They were peacemakers. They were meek. They were humble. They were pure of heart. They suffered for their faith but did not abandon it. They mourned, but they did not lose hope. They loved God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind. And they loved their neighbor as themselves.”

“And if we do the same,” he added, “then the fruits will be a very vibrant, faith-filled, service-oriented, united diocese as well as parishes, schools and communities without any form of racism, bias or discrimination. Through the intercession of Mary our Mother and St. Joseph, the saints and the soon-to-be saints that we remember this evening, may that be the reality here in this diocese at this exciting time in our history and always. Amen.”

Reflecting on the prayer service, the leaders of the diocesan Black Catholic Ministry said it was an important step toward ensuring that people across the diocese learn more about these inspiring Catholics.

“It is an education for everybody to better understand everyone who has made significant contributions to our church,” said Jerry Cousin, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville who chairs the Black Catholic Ministry group.

“We all have to come to prayer with open hearts and open minds so that we can see the good in each of us,” he said. “We are all children of God.”

“We all need to know about each other’s heritage,” said Beverly Carroll, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Dale City and vice chair of the panel.

These figures in Black Catholic history “all have done such wonderful things,” she said. Carroll draws inspiration from the obstacles they overcame. 

“They never gave up,” she said. “They loved the Lord and they loved people. And that’s what people need to get back to.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Catholic Ministry launched a regular, virtual rosary in response to lockdowns that curtailed in-person worship. Over the past 20 months, the prayer sessions grew and attracted the faithful from Tennessee, California and even Germany. The rosaries are open to every parish across the diocese, Carroll said. 

Near the end of the prayer service, Cousin announced that the ministry’s next event will be a January celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Another gathering is anticipated next November as well to commemorate Black Catholic History Month.

“Dear friends, as we heard these powerful stories, we see that in every age where there is darkness and evil and sin and rejection of the Gospel, God raises up holy men and women to be a source of inspiration for all,” Bishop Burbidge said in his concluding remarks, before he exited to a rousing performance of the closing hymn, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Find out more

To join the Black Catholic Ministry virtual rosary prayer group, contact the Office of Multicultural Ministries and Diocesan Events at 703/841-3881 or mcm@arlingtondiocese.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021