Every five years, the National Black Catholic Congress meets to focus on the baptismal commitment to witness and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The 13th Congress will take place next summer in Maryland.
In preparation for the congress, representatives of Black parishes, organizations and others interested in the mission met for a day of reflection Oct. 29 at the Center for Pastoral Leadership in Wickliffe.
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About 70 people were on hand and were thrilled when Bishop Edward Malesic briefly stopped by – unannounced – to offer his good wishes. He read a letter from Sister Jane Nesmith, who will join the diocese later this year as director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries. She is relocating from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was unable to attend the day of reflection.
“At the heart of our Catholic faith is the sacramental identity give to us in Christ,” Sister Nesmith wrote. “By our baptism, we are made prophets. That is part of our identity in Christ, a part of our life in the Spirit. Whether or not we believe, appropriate and live this prophetic identity is a whole other question. Nonetheless, we are prophets,” she added.
As true prophets, it is their right to have their voices heard, their experiences honored and their lives valued, Sister Nesmith wrote. And, as prophets, they have responsibility to speak the word of the Lord.
“Today you are called to lift your prophetic voice. What you do here today incarnates Pope Francis’ call for a synodal Church. Your prayerful discernment, your Spirit-led reflections on your experience of life, faith and community and your grace-filled conversations – these will allow God’s vision to be made manifest. Trust that God will make the vision known through you,” she wrote. “God will fulfill God’s promise; the vision and its fulfillment will occur.”
Bishop Malesic said she encouraged those gathered not to be afraid to imagine what could be.
“After all, you are a prophet. Write down the vision. Make it plain upon the tablets sot at the one who reads it may run. God and God’s vision will not disappoint. And you – we – are God’s prophets.”
Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost led opening prayer. Deacon Hardin Martin served as lead facilitator for the day. Father James Watson, OFM Cap, was a presenter. Lynette Saenz, assistant director of the Parish Life and Special Ministries Office, helped guide the program and Father Damian Ference, director of the office, presided at the closing prayer. Sandra Gay-Chapman was cantor for the day.
The Diocesan Shepherding Committee for African American Ministry, which includes Gregory Clifford, Betty Smith, Eugenya Harris, Phillis Fuller Clipps, Lori Washington, Patricia Douglas, Jimmie Waugh and Nahtia Stribling, also participated in the event.
Parishes represented included Holy Spirit, Garfield Heights; St. Adalbert/Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, St. Agnes/Our Lady of Fatima, St. Aloysius-St. Agatha, St. Jerome, and Our Lady of Peace, all in Cleveland; St. Mary, Bedford; Our Lady of the Lake, Euclid; and St. Paschal Baylon, Highland Heights. Also participating were the National African American Catholic Youth & Young Adult Ministry Network and the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver.
Deacon Martin and Saenz guided the group through three sessions: Leaning In – the Path of Reflection; Leaning Out – Journey Towards Mission and Writing Our Vision.
The day’s format paralleled that of the diocesan synodal process. Each person at the table was invited to share during three segments of the three sessions. At the end, a recorder shared the key takeaway from the collective wisdom of each group.
Father James Watson, pastor of St. Agnes/Our Lady of Fatima, inspired attendees with a presentation on Pope Francis’ prophetic wisdom, reminding the group that “Wisdom is a gift give to us by the Lord, the wise one, so we can get to know him … Jesus is wisdom, the wisdom we seek. Jesus is wisdom and we must be yoked to him,” he said, explaining that we must be connected to Jesus. He used the example of younger oxen being yoked to older ones so the younger ones can learn.
“Jesus says learn from me how to understand your neighbor, how to forgive,” Father Watson said, encouraging the group to see things from Jesus’ eyes. “You become wise. Know Jesus. Learn his teachings. Your only goal is to please God. Be yoked to the Lord. Grow closer to him in your prayer and you will grow closer to him in wisdom.”
In his closing remarks and prayer, Father Ference told the group “the power of the Holy Spirit helped lead us to Sister Jane and to lead her to us.” He also reminded them that the diocesan staff in downtown Cleveland is a partner with them. “Together we can do great things,” he added.