Celebrating the history and heritage of Black Catholics

ORLANDO | Saint Perpetua, a noble woman from Carthage Africa in the third century, was separated from her infant son, imprisoned and beheaded in a public arena for refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods. She was joined in martyrdom by Saint Felicity, a slave who gave birth while in prison only two days before her execution. On the surface, the story of their heroic faith seems to have little in common with the life of Christians today, but attendees to the presentation, “Saints Perpetua and Felicity: Martyrs of the Early Church” by Dr. Alice Wood learned how their lives continue to inspire the faithful today.

“Christians still have an allegiance to something higher than the State—even higher than one’s family.  Our allegiance to God is more important than all human and social relationships,” said Dr. Wood, associate professor of religion at Bethune-Cookman University. “Their story brings up issues of family and motherhood, self-sacrifice and faith. It is our hope that people today will find their story as compelling as Christians have done for centuries and will model their lives after these two women of conviction and courage.”

The presentation was held at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Daytona Beach on November 2 to kick-off the celebration of Black Catholic History Month which has been celebrated each November in the United States since 1990 in recognition of the long history and proud heritage of Black Catholics.

“There are more than 3 million Black Catholics in the United States and more than 200 million people of African descent in the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world,” said Eretta Morris, a member of the African American Ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes. “During this month we will bring our gifts to the table of God, as we recommit ourselves to be proclaimers of the Good News endeavoring to live lives worthy of God’s love. During this month of November, we embrace our Catholicity by celebrating “who” we are and ‘whose’ we are.”

The African American Ministry has been active at the parish since 2018. On the first Sunday of each month, they celebrate Harambee Sunday, Swahili for “let’s pull together”. Mass is celebrated in African style, with parishioners and pastor Father Phil Egitto wearing native African attire.

“We are a hallelujah people and must feel like our culture matters and plays an integral part in the life of our Church,” said Morris. “When the community sees we have an African American presence, they will want to be a part of it. The primary mission of the African American Ministry is to grow in the love of Christ spiritually and culturally within the Church. There is a richness to the Black experience that we must share with the entire people of God.”

Black Catholic History month is the perfect place to begin sharing that experience. All Saints Day on November 1 is an opportunity to review the lives of saints of African descent. All Souls Day on November 2 is a time to remember those lost in the Middle Passage crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. St. Martin de Porres, the first Black American saint, is celebrated on November 3 and the birth of St. Augustine of Hippo is remembered on November 13.

“The stories of Black Catholic saints reveal a richness and depth to the experience of what it means to be Black and Catholic,” said Dr. Wood “I hope that the presentation will make people aware of the power of these stories and their relevance today.”

By Elizabeth Wilson of the Florida Catholic  November 06, 2019