As a Catholic of African descent, I am honored and privileged by this unique opportunity to discuss the beautifully diverse Catholic Church throughout the world, the significant contributions that those of every ethnic background have made in building up the Body of Christ, and how we can arrive at racial healing and reconciliation.
The Catholic Church is made up of the faithful of every ethnic background, the young and old, both male and female, and several distinct cultural settings. In other words, we Catholics come from every realm of the human experience, and are united in our baptismal fidelity. As a black Catholic, my religious heritage spans all the way back to biblical times, including when Saint Philip the Apostle brought the Good News of Jesus Christ down into Ethiopia (see Acts:8:26-40). Both African and African-American saints, including those in this extensive list from Catholic Online, have enriched the Church for nearly two millennia. Likewise, the modern era features some black candidates for sainthood, including those appearing in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ webpage titled “On the Path to Sainthood: Leaders of African Descent.” I encourage everyone of good will to read through the biographies of the figures listed in both of those sites, in order to gain a greater appreciation for the manifold ways that they have built up the Body of Christ, per the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:4-5).
The calendar year 2020 brought numerous challenges to those of every faith, both in the United States and around the globe, as the world confronted the COVID-19 pandemic and matters of racial discord were brought to the fore in the United States. I think often of how far we have come as a nation in terms of fostering peace and harmony between people of every ethnic background here in the United States. For instance, my father, Charles McClain, Sr., who was born in Durham, North Carolina, in 1936, and lived under segregation well into his early adulthood, probably did not fathom during his youth that he would one day see three of his sons (my brother Eric, my brother Jaris, and me) go on to marry white women. We can attest that this is, in a way, a fulfillment of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, affirmation from his “I Have a Dream” speech of August 28, 1963, declaring that “I have a dream that that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and that “one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Yet, as with many quests for justice, this is easier said than done. However, since we profess our faith in Jesus Christ, we have inspiration from the Gospel, since Jesus commands (not suggests) to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
To facilitate healing and reconciliation, we must have best intentions and give others the benefit of the doubt when they are striving to learn more about their brethren of other ethnic backgrounds and cultures. As such, every endeavor in this regard should be marked by true charity and prayer prior to the initiation of any sociopolitical engagement, all of which must be informed by the Gospel and its imperatives if we are to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I urge the faithful to read books on racial reconciliation and healing from a Christ-centered perspective. A couple of books that come to mind are Joseph Pearce’s Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love (TAN Books, 2013) and the late Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga’s Forgiveness Makes You Free: A Dramatic Story of Healing and Reconciliation from the Heart of Rwanda (Ave Maria Press, 2019). Of note, Fr. Ubald passed away from complications related to COVID-19 on January 7. You can read more about his life and ministry in this tribute provided by Ave Maria Press.
I love teaching my children and students about being an African-American Catholic, just as I enjoy learning about my wife’s Irish-American Catholic heritage and many other avenues of cultural diversity within the Church. Let us draw each other to embrace the sacramental life and the Church’s timeless moral standards in order to reinforce the Body of Christ. May God bless you.