Historic Gathering

The first Black Catholic Congress was held in 1887 at the initiative of a charismatic black layman named Daniel Rudd. During those troubled times in the history of black people in America, when racial discrimination ruled unchallenged, Rudd, a distinguished Catholic journalist, convoked his black Catholic colleagues to meet for a few days to seek together fresh ways to promote justice and equality. Some American bishops lent their support while others felt somewhat uneasy. Seven such Congresses were held in the following years and were reasonably successful as they brought together about 100 of the black Catholic intelligentsia of the day.

In 1987, to mark the one 100th anniversary of the first Congress, black Catholic leaders decided to resuscitate the Congress to re-energize the three million black Catholics in the U.S., to call them to grow in their commitment to the Church, and to make greater use of their cultural resources in their worship services. It was also a wake-up call to be more involved in the social problems of the present time.

Black Bishops in the U.S. published on that occasion a pastoral letter entitled “What We Have Seen and Heard.” The impact of that message was profound. It was inspired by the documents of Vatican Council II that insisted on the enculturation of worship as a means to deepen the understanding and impact of the Gospel message.