FLATBUSH — Whenever Shaniqua Wilson brings The Voices of Praise Ensemble or Ecclesia Dance Ministry to Mass, she inevitably gets asked, “Are they Catholic?”
The Gospel choir-like singing strikes people as out of place in a Catholic church, and liturgical dance is unfamiliar to many. But Wilson said the groups that led the faithful in worship at the Diocese of Brooklyn’s National Black Catholic History Month Mass at St. Therese of Lisieux, Flatbush, on Nov. 17 are indeed Catholic.
“It is a result of everything that John Paul II asked us to do in the early ’80s and bring our authentic blackness to the church and bring all of our gifts to the church,” she said.
Black Catholic History Month in the United States in November dates back to 1990, when the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States started the custom to honor pioneers of the faith from Africa, including Sts. Augustine, born Nov. 13, and Martin de Porres, whose feast day is Nov. 3.
The youth group from St. Clare, Rosedale, attended the Mass at St. Therese of Lisieux.
“To see everyone come together as black Catholics, it just showed that there are many black Catholics, and we can come together and worship together and become one,” said Briana Turin, a youth group leader from St. Clare. “They also let us know that we’re not alone, and we’re not invisible. We are there and we are present.”
The evening honored six members of the black Catholic community in the diocese for their service, including Father James Goode, O.F.M., Father Martin Carter, S.A., John Baynes, Leah Holland, Ruth Watt and John Whitmore.
Father Alonzo Cox, diocesan coordinator for the Vicariate for Black Catholic Concern, said he hopes the Mass is “the beginning of something phenomenal.”
The vicariate invited Father Chester Smith, S.V.D. from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to preach.
Father Smith encouraged those gathered to follow the example of the honorees and build the church in Brooklyn and Queens. He told the youth not to wait until they were older, but to start now.
“It’s our time,” he said. “Now, let’s get busy.”