I was born in Arlington, Virginia and my family is from El Salvador. I grew up being bi-cultural, speaking Spanish to communicate with my immediate family and English to communicate with everyone else. I remember while growing up that my peers at school would be surprised when I would speak Spanish because they thought I didn’t know the language. Going to church, my family would always go to Mass or Eucharistic Adoration in Spanish. I almost had two different lives: one was in Spanish and the other was in English. Each language incorporated different things.
During the summer I was fifteen, I attended my first teen retreat by Tira La Red (Throw the Net), where I had my first encounter with God. I remember that most talks were in English and everything that came down to praying was in Spanish. This made me feel comfortable and that I truly fit in since I and the other participants only knew our prayers in Spanish. I enjoyed attending the bilingual retreat; it made me feel like I belonged. I left this retreat and was inspired to grow as a Catholic—my religion and faith became a very big part of my life.
While attending public school, I observed that religion was rarely discussed unless Christianity came up in history class. Being Catholic and being able to identify as Catholic was important to me, so most of my high school friends knew about my devotion to the faith. Many of them did not understand why I was so devoted but respected that I was, and that inspired them to want to know more about my faith. Many times, we did not see eye to eye on different Catholic teachings or perspectives, but my friends were able to see past that and we maintained a deep friendship regardless of our beliefs. I would go to my youth group at my parish and attend Tira La Red events during the weekends. My weekends were consumed by Mass and church events which left me feeling fulfilled.
Once I graduated high school, I wanted to attend a Catholic college, which led me to attend The Catholic University of America. I was excited to go to a school where I would continue to grow in my faith and learn more about it while also majoring in marketing (I always knew I wanted to specialize in something in business). Once at Catholic University, I realized that my experience of bicultural Catholicism was not the reality for everyone else. I realized that the way I practiced and experienced the Catholic faith would be different in college. There were no bilingual events, which was challenging at the beginning. Eventually I realized that this challenge was an eye opener for me to stop seeing my faith only in terms of what language was being used to discuss it. Whether it was in Spanish, English, or both, it’s all my same faith.
Many wonderful things came from attending Catholic University. I had the opportunity to make friends who also practiced my faith, was able to attend Mass, and share deep conversations that were important and enriching. During orientation week, I remember attending my first English Mass. It was all new to me, but I began to see my faith in a different way and also got to appreciate my unique perspective. I learned that no matter what language we speak or culture we come from, we find God when we seek him in whatever language we’re comfortable with. This diversity is what strengthens and enriches the Catholic faith.
After working for two years at the Catholic Apostolate Center, I have not only celebrated and learned more about my faith in English, but have also had the opportunity to do things that involve being bicultural. I have been able to expand my horizons and see my faith in so many different wonderful ways that I was blind to before.
I have come to see that religion does not need to be practiced in Spanish or have both languages in it in order to represent my faith. Before attending The Catholic University of America, I did not understand and value the Catholic faith for what it is and for the diversity that it brings. The Word of God is for all, not just for one culture or ethnicity. Having attended a Catholic college and now working for a Catholic organization, I have learned how unique it is that I get to know both English and Spanish and how I can enjoy practicing my faith in either language or both in my everyday life. I have also accepted that no matter what language I choose or prefer to speak, I am one and so is my faith.
Just down the street from where I study and serve in my home Archdiocese of Baltimore is our nation’s first Catholic cathedral, the Basilica of the Assumption, a visible testimony to the faith of the first Catholics in the newly formed United States of America. Yet every time I visit that holy place, I’m reminded by the physical space that for many years worship was segregated and black Catholics were required to sit in the balcony. Our family of faith in Baltimore included heroic individuals and communities like that of Mother Mary Lange (1794-1882), founder of the first African-American religious order, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, and the ministry of the Josephites. Their creative witness and ongoing presence in our communities today serve as a constant reminder that their mission lives on and has work yet to do.
Since 1990, the Church in the United States, through the work of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC), has designated November as Black Catholic History Month. In a special way, the testimony of black Catholics reminds us all that as disciples of Christ, we live by memory. Celebrating this month reminds the Church just what it is that we are responsible for remembering. The act of remembering is a moral and spiritual task, part of the Church’s call to combat the sin of racism and seek new forms of reconciliation with sins of the past. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that memory lies at the heart of the Church’s celebration of word and sacrament, and briefly reflect here on why remembering our Church’s black history is so important for faithfully celebrating God’s word and sacrament each and every day.
Those who attend or have attended a parish with a strong black Catholic presence will often recognize the power of the proclamation and preaching of God’s word. In particular, this tradition of preaching reminds Catholics that our Church preaches and teaches a truly liberatory word. Jesus Christ came to deliver God’s people from all forms of bondage and oppression, restoring us to freedom.
Our biblical faith makes clear that participation in the Exodus event is intrinsically connected with our participation in the Passover. As Catholics, this means we are fed by God’s word and sacrament, particularly the Eucharist. At the Institution of the Eucharist at his Last Supper, Jesus instructed his Apostles to “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). The sacrifice of the Mass is an act of remembrance, called anamnesis, that re-presents Christ, making Jesus truly present here and now in the species of bread and wine. (I invite you to read Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s reflection.) That act of remembering is the basis for our act of thanksgiving (literally, “eucharist”). But it is impossible for us to give thanks for what we cannot remember.
Does Christ’s presence at the altar then lead us onward to become more aware of Christ’s presence in our brothers and sisters who remain subject to forms of injustice and oppression elsewhere? To this end, our bishops offer resources on how to respond to sins of racism, an important way to publicly live out the interior transformation we receive in the Eucharist.
While we live by memory, we do not simply live in the past; we are called to faithfully live out of our past. We live by memory as a sign of our hope that since God gave us a past, he promises us a future. Black Catholic History Month serves as a reminder that we have a history worth remembering and celebrating, so that we may go on living in the freedom to which Christ daily calls us.
For more resources, we invite you to visit our Cultural Diversity Resources page and scroll down to the section on African American/Black Catholics.
We invite you to read Cardinal Wuerl's Pastoral Letter, The Challenge of Racism Today, by clicking here.
Questions for Reflection: How does remembering the past help us to live more faithfully and hopefully in the future? How have you seen our Church benefit from the diversity of its members?
On July 1-4, 2017, Catholic dioceses and organizations reflecting the diversity of the Catholic Church in the United States will convene for a Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, FL. Approximately 3,000 people representing over 155 dioceses and numerous church organizations will meet to discuss methods and ideas for making Pope Francis’ vision of a “missionary option” for Church ministries and activities a reality in the United States. This unprecedented event is being called and organized by the US bishops, signifying the importance of such an event as a necessary step for Catholics in the Church today to live as missionary disciples filled with the “Joy of the Gospel.” While those who are attending the Convocation are already Church leaders, they look to the guidance of the bishops in order to help them tackle their particular pastoral challenges and foster opportunities for growth.
The Catholic Apostolate Center has been invited by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to collaborate on the planning of the Convocation, as well as to attend as a sponsor and exhibitor in order to share our ministry and promote our work of fostering evangelization. Center Director, Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. will be speaking at the Convocation to help guide and foster dialogue among the participants. The Center is also collaborating with the USCCB to develop and distribute the Participant Guidebook and Journal and collaborate with them on pre-Convocation webinars. One webinar provides the theological basis of the Convocation. Another webinar discusses the practical layout and methodology of the event.
The mission of the Catholic Apostolate Center is to revive faith, rekindle charity, and form apostles through the lens of Pallottine spirituality. Our patron, St. Vincent Pallotti, believed that all the members of the Church are called to collaborate in spreading the Gospel. “The Catholic Apostolate, that is, the universal apostolate, which is common to all classes of people, consists in doing all that one must and can do for the great glory of God and for one’s own salvation and that of one’s neighbor,” St. Vincent Pallotti said. The Catholic Apostolate Center further hopes to help dioceses, organizations, and ministries better collaborate with each other and find ways to share the resources we have as a Church.
The Convocation of Catholic Leaders will be a monumental event for the Church in the United States which we hope will bear much fruit. For those attending, I invite you to read, reflect, and pray for the openness of the Holy Spirit in guiding your participation during the Convocation. We also invite attendees to visit our exhibit to learn more about our resources and work. At the Catholic Apostolate Center, we are always interested in collaborating and working together to form apostles for our Church. For those that will not be able to attend, please pray for the participants and organizers of the Convocation, that they may be open to the Holy Spirit to guide their efforts. May he help us become missionary disciples, or as our Patron St. Vincent Pallotti would say, apostles, in the United States.
To learn more about the Convocation for Catholic Leaders, please visit the USCCB website by clicking here. For additional information and resources, we invite you to visit our website by clicking here.
As we remember Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on this American federal holiday, I invite you to join me in reflecting on his dream for the United States and for the world. Rev. King fought for equality and justice in the United States using nonviolence. He helped empower American society to look past differences and come together through love by leading people in prayer and using words paired with non-violent actions. As a Baptist minister, Rev. King upheld Christian ideals and spoke to the hearts of all those facing injustice. He personally felt and lived through discrimination and had his share of fear and uncertainty. Yet through these hardships, he led others to see truth in justice and civil rights by organizing non-violent marches and protests, and by preaching unity.
Much of what Rev. King said through his words and his non-violent actions can be compared to the teachings of Christ. In the Gospel of John, for example, Peter tries to defend Jesus from a large crowd trying to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus tells Peter to “put the sword in its sheath” and in Matthew’s Gospel adds, “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” In doing so, Christ tells Peter that fighting back with the same means as the enemy will get him nowhere.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, while he was preaching about the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). Christ preached forgiveness through love and mercy throughout his ministry and demonstrated this in a powerful way throughout his arrest and Passion. Jesus demonstrated how love can change hearts and save lives. Martin Luther King Jr. imitated this response. His promotion of unity has had powerful repercussions on our society that are still felt to this day.
Unfortunately, discrimination in various forms continues. Our next generation sees pain, division, and fear in the news and TV shows, on social media, and even sometimes right outside their doors. However, those who cultivate empathy for others can make Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream come true today and breathe life into Christ's teachings in the Gospel.
So how can you empower the nation with love? How can you teach through your actions how to live out Christian values and Catholic Social Teaching? In what ways can you help bring understanding and empathy to others?
I invite you to reflect on the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:3-10) as a way to embark on this journey toward building peace!
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Please visit our website to learn more about Cultural Diversity, Catholic Social Teaching and Christian Unity.