Black Catholics called to remember the poor

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Msgr. Ray East opened his keynote address with a hymn. “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head,” he sang, joined by the participants of the Black Catholic Day of Reflection at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna Nov. 18, the day before the World Day of the Poor. “That’s a really beautiful song about a really desperate situation,” said the pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Church in Washington and the keynote speaker.

Every African-American family has a story of poverty, he said. Many blacks are still in poverty — the average worth of an African-American family in Washington is around $3,500. “That means (on the whole) we owe more than we are worth,” said Msgr. East. 

“Jesus came as Good News for the poor,” he said. “(But) this is very uncomfortable news for you and for me because, face it, we (overcame) poverty.” Americans live in the richest society on the planet, surrounded by luxury and excess, he said, adding, “We no longer want to be associated with the poor. We’re running away from the poverty of our forefathers.” 

Still, he said, every African-American can think of an outcast member of their extended family — the cousin who’s incarnated, who’s addicted or who died a violent death. “We’ve come a long way, but we must never turn our back on our own,” he told the attendees. “What does God want from us? To set free the oppressed, to break off every yoke, to take the afflicted into your home, to clothe the naked when you see them and not turn your back on your own flesh.”

At the conference, which was organized by the Office of Multicultural Ministries, black Catholics also reflected on the National Black Catholic Congress, held in Florida in July. Those who attended listened to talks on topics such as pro-life work, gun violence and the Eucharist. Deacon Al A. Anderson Jr. and his wife, Beverly, parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Alexandria, said they felt energized by their interactions with the youths at the congress. “There was a spirit of joy,” he said. 

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge presented the Father Augustus Tolton and Mother Mary Lange Award to Cecilia Braveboy, a longtime parishioner and volunteer at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington, and thanked the black Catholic community. “There are so many heroes within your community and we pledge to follow your good example,” he said.

The day ended with black Catholics joining with African and Caribbean Catholics for a Unity Mass celebrated by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell Jr. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017