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Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

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(3,817 posts)
Tue Feb 7, 2017, 12:04 AM Feb 2017

We, too, sing America: The Catholic church and the Museum of African American History and Culture [View all]


The new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture has stirred a great deal of interest. As an African-American and as a Catholic bishop, I have looked forward to visiting the museum and examining its treatment of the church. After the presidential election, I traveled to Baltimore for the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Afterwards, I traveled to Washington, D.C., where I once served as personal theologian to Cardinal James Hickey, to visit the museum. Once in the museum, I realized it would take many visits to comprehend its overwhelming sweep and wonder. I also quickly realized that there was very little in the museum about the Catholic church or about African-American Catholics. The church is in the museum more by its absence than its presence. The museum aims to be a museum for all people, a timely reminder that the African-American story is at the heart of the American story. Since the museum only displays 3,500 of the 40,000 objects in its collection, I hope there will be more about the Catholic church and African-American Catholics in future exhibits.

This journey came in the wake of the most controversial, the most negative, the most emotional, the most painful, and the most polarizing presidential campaign in my adult lifetime. It was a campaign during which the racial divide in the United States was never far from the attention of the ever-vigilant media. Would this election affirm or repudiate the historic presidency of Barack Obama? Would the Democratic candidate be able to motivate the unprecedented numbers of African-American and young voters to return to the polls? Could the Republican candidate attract significant African-American voters with his question, "What the hell do you have to lose?" Or, could he be victorious without their votes? A number of commentators suggested that there was a degree of racial tension in the air fueled by some campaign rhetoric and a long, sad season of altercations between law enforcement officers and people of color resulting in the deaths of youthful African-Americans and the fatal assaults of white policemen.

It was in this context that the bishops chose to celebrate the opening Mass of our general assembly at St. Peter Claver Parish, a modest church in Baltimore's African-American community. A striking Afrocentric crucifix, with a corpus carved by Juvenal Kaliki, of Tanzania, was used during the Mass. It was also on display throughout the meeting of the bishops' conference. Because of its small size, many may not have noticed it. Following the longstanding custom, at the Mass many of the bishops stood during the singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (the African-American national anthem).

(Very long, but very interesting.)
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