I’m having a tough time being Catholic and black. There are 67million Catholics in the United States and as of 2012 there were 3 million black Catholics. Granted we are in the minority but we still have a strong showing and have been a force all the way back to the beginnings of America. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the founder of Chicago, was black and a Catholic. Slaves escaped to Florida and were granted freedom once becoming Catholic. Then there is the strong association of Catholicism, the French in Louisiana and blacks. Those are the roots of my family tree, Louisiana Creole and of course Catholic. These things go together like red beans and rice.
There was no question that my marraine (god mother) and parrain (god father) would hail from any other religious background. It was a given. This familial philosophy of adhering to our traditional Catholic practices became of particular interest to me in later years when I learned my marraine had been acquainted with sex as an orphan living in the convent; introduced to love making by the local priest. This situation led to her being relocated to Chicago from New Orleans at the tender age of sixteen. She held on to her faith in spite of the “incident”, as it was whispered amongst my family. At least she stayed devout until she divorced her physically abusive husband and was subsequently excommunicated (kicked out of the church). Mind you this was a self-imposed excommunication. She was such a fervent Catholic that she left the church because it was the “rule”. She latched onto the Baptist church. The rest of us did not follow.
When my children entered the world they were held over the baptismal fount and sprinkled with holy water in the tradition of my faith. I’m divorced but unlike my marraine I have continued to go to mass and receive communion. I even manage to get my non-Catholic husband to join me. I should put that in the past tense for the moment. Since we lost our favorite priest neither of us has been back. Am I ready to change religions? I don’t think I’m prepared for that but I am fairly conflicted.
Firstly, is the issue of losing our priest (who happened to be white) and what that means to me personally. It’s hard as heck to find a parish church in a black neighborhood with a priest we can relate to. The archdiocese continues to send Africans to lead us. The problem is we don’t understand them. There is nothing more boring than sitting in church and pretending to be interested in a sermon that might as well be in Latin. Didn’t the Vatican in the second Vatican Council approve mass in the native tongue of the listeners? For most blacks in Chicago that would be English. Considering the desire of the church to hold on to as many Catholics as possible you would think a real effort would be made to secure a priest we could understand. I’m not suggesting that the priest has to be black but maybe some of the African priest should be situated elsewhere. Just because we have dark skin does not give us an immediate understanding of English spoken with a heavy African accent.
There is a second issue we seem to encounter with African priest. They are often very conservative. I mean strict adherence to the most non-progressive ideas in the modern Catholic faith. Our favorite priest who left our parish was inclusive, compromising and thought Jesus was a human being with struggles and moral dilemmas. Remember he threw folks out of the temple. That’s pretty rad. You won’t find many conservative priests giving a Christmas Eve mass in which they show kids a coloring book in which Jesus is clearly not blonde. Our favorite priest did just that and in a parish with more whites than blacks.
This brings me to my latest quandary, the pope. He’s resigning. In the more than 2,000 years of papacy, resignations have occurred only three times. Scandal on the other hand has been with us many times. If you think not, just try reading about the Borgias. There was more than a little hanky-panky between the friars, back stabbing, dirty politics and you name a sin; it was committed. Certainly child molestation was not excluded. Pedophilia is not a modern construct. Pedophiles crop up in places other than the Catholic Church. The pope is not leaving the seat of Saint Peter because of allegations against him relating to misconduct. It is more likely his inability to cope with the rising tide of sexual scandals linked to our church.
During a conversation with one of my family members I was stunned into a new awareness by a remark she made. The “conclave needs to find someone with more business savvy”. “Why”, I asked being less in the know than my relative. “Haven’t you heard about the opaque book keeping at the Vatican or the accusations of money laundering?” OMG! All I thought I wanted was a priest at my local parish who wasn’t a child molester; who spoke fathomable English and held the opinion that God was inclusive, forgiving, kind and just. Now I have to add a MBA, J.D., MS in social work and of course because I am the B.U.G. an environmentalist to my prayers for the new pope. AMEN!
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