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Second conversation on combating racism in the Church focuses on youth, education, evangelization

News of the Diocese

June 18, 2020

Second conversation on combating racism in the Church focuses on youth, education, evangelization
Second conversation on combating racism in the Church focuses on youth, education, evangelization
Second conversation on combating racism in the Church focuses on youth, education, evangelization

The Diocese of Cleveland’s Office of Ministry to African American Catholics, headed by Cary Dabney, hosted a second Zoom session on June 17 focusing on “Combating Racism in the Church Through our Youth, Education and Evangelization.”

About 50 people heard Father Royal Lee of Atlanta share his perspectives on the topic as a priest and educator.

Father Lee, who was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, has been engaged in independent ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for the past eight years. He is a professor for the permanent diaconate program for homiletics and also works with the homeless, human rights causes, street and jail ministry. Previously, Father Lee was a faulty/staff member for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, a middle school principal and administrator, college professor and U. S. Air Force chaplain.

His outreach includes working with high school youth to help educate them about African American culture and the Catholic Church.

He talked about a summer program for high school youth in Atlanta that exposes participants “to people who don’t look like them.” Their day begins with Mass “and we feed them what we call spiritual food – high energy spiritual food.” Father Lee said the program includes music and speakers geared toward youth and young adults.

“We have to meet them exactly where they are – and that means with high energy. I have to take 2,000 years of Church history that goes deep, put it in a blender and make it relevant to kids in the 21st century.” He described the results as “explosive.”

Father Lee said many of the youth may have never been exposed to a black priest. “This is the season for lay people. We have failed our youth, failed to connect that table of the Eucharist with the ambo – the word of God. We have to get in that door and make Catholicism relevant. The kids have to understand – and many don’t know – that this Church is built on African and black folks.” He said people are exposed to a European theology and 99% of the statues in churches are white.

“They’re not exposed to St. Martin de Porres, the Ugandan martyrs and other people of color. They need exposure -- and it’s up to you to expose them to this wonderful reality. Bring your gifts to the Church,” he told program attendees.

As far as learning about the contributions of blacks to the Catholic Church, Father Lee said the Institute for Black Catholic Studies offers a variety of courses that can be taken online this summer. He also recommended checking out the resources on the National Black Catholic Congress website.

Father Lee said he was fortunate to have been taught by Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis, an African American and an authority on the history of black Catholicism, as well as Blessed Thea Bowman, a well-respected black nun, educator, speaker and a founder of the National Black Sisters Conference.

“We are called to be an agent of change,” Father Lee said, explaining that Jesus began to change Judaism at age 30, pointing out he approached Jews, non-Jews, prostitutes, tax collectors and others as he brought about a new movement – Christianity – that developed organically. “He was trying to help them put on a new pair of glasses to see a new way. And here we are, reaping the benefits of it – but the struggle is still there.”

Father Lee, also known for his motivational speaking and his work as a revivalist, said the Church provides a skeleton structure to follow for Mass. “I preach in a style they understand. I tell them we are Catholic Christians. We have lots of styles of spirituality and there is lots of room in our Church to express that,” he said, comparing it to various religious orders in the Church.

When evangelizing, he said to remember that people are looking for someone who is authentic, who will welcome and embrace them where they are. “That’s what Jesus did. Then we meet in the middle. What can I learn from them?” he asked. “As Catholics, we don’t know all the answers,” Father Lee said. He reminded the group that consciously and unconsciously, we can do damage. “We have to look at ourselves in the mirror. Everyone is called by baptism to flourish. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is when you don’t allow people to be who God created them to be. Keep yourself open to the sweet Holy Spirit who wants to do great things in you,” he added.

Dabney said the Diocese of Cleveland is working on identifying and improving race relations, including in the seminary, diaconate program and continuing education of priests and deacons. He said a race relations committee that will consist of representatives of all races/nationalities in the diocese will be formed to help with the work.

The next Zoom session, 6:30 p.m. July 1, will be a “Conversation with the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Racism,” featuring Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, who chairs the ad hoc committee, and attorney Danielle Brown, associate director of the committee.

Also, Dabney said the African American Ministry web page will offer a variety of new resources beginning this week.

Visit to participate in the next Zoom session.

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