2018-12_LT-BlackAndCatholic

My Culture

Black and Catholic

Alright, let’s cut to the chase — I’m black, I’m Catholic, and I’m a child of immigrant parents. To be honest, these three facts don’t make me popular.

For a huge chunk of my childhood, being black wasn’t an issue, or at least it wasn’t one I was aware of. From kindergarten to eighth grade, pretty much every kid I went to school with looked like me, or at least was some shade of brown. When I got to high school, the skin tones were a bit more varied, but most of the kids still looked like me.

The Big Move

And then everything changed. March 29, 2002 was not only my 16th birthday but moving day, as well. My parents, without first consulting me (rude), decided we were going to move out of the city and into the Boston suburbs. I hated it. My friends, school, youth group, and church community were all in the city. I put up a good fight, but because I needed somewhere to live, I lost (although I was allowed to continue going to school in Boston).

My Reality

This small, suburban town was a lot different than my Boston neighborhood. I remember being in my suburban home, thinking I could just walk to the corner store to get a Little Debbie snack or a Hostess cupcake or something. So I began to walk and walk and walk. After about 20 minutes, I thought there must be a store nearby, so I took a right and walked another ten minutes. I had finally stumbled upon a neighborhood convenience store. I walked in, and I kid you not, the whole store turned and stared at me. I was followed as I walked up and down the aisles. I suddenly felt like I didn’t belong. I felt different, like an outcast. I was the minority and I definitely felt it.

I thought to myself, “maybe it’s this side of town, or maybe just the people who happen to be in the store.” As I explored different places during my first week in my new town, I continued to have that same experience from the corner store. For the first time, I felt the weight of my skin color. For the first time, things I heard and read about, or saw on TV and in movies, became a reality. As my first week came to an end and my second week began, I was certain there was one place where I would not feel like an outcast.

Church

To help you understand my Sunday worship experience in my new town, I’m going to quote a song by Catholic musician Ike Ndolo, called “Your Table,” on his album, Shine: “only black family in a white Church…”

We walked into Mass at our new parish. The hospitality was OK, but boy did we stick out like a sore thumb. At the end of the Mass, we were rushed by all sorts of people who were welcoming us and introducing themselves. A question we were repeatedly asked was, “Did you guys just move here?” “Yes, we just moved here from Boston.” “Oh, but where are you from?” “We lived in a neighborhood in Boston called Hyde Park.” “No, but were you born here? I hear an accent.” “We immigrated from Haiti years ago (my parents had been in America for 30 years at that point).”

And it happened again. Just like in the convenience store, I felt like I didn’t belong. But this time, I was in a church.

The person greeting us went on to say, “Oh, Haiti, that’s nice. We have a lot of people from Portugal in this parish. We’re very diverse.”

It’s hard being black and Catholic. As I read more and learned about the persecution from Catholics in the Caribbean, especially in countries like Haiti, I began to question, “What am I doing? Why am I Catholic?” A lot of my black friends from Boston started to ask me the same question; most of whom, by my junior year of high school, had already converted to other Christian denominations and were trying to convince me to do the same.

Their biggest argument was that the Catholic Church is a “white church,” and I was beginning to believe them. No one in the church, except for my family, looked like me. Everyone — the priest, youth minister, music minister, lectors — was white, and I felt that there was no one there who I could relate to.

The Reality

People in the Church have made mistakes, some which we continue to feel and are still paying repercussions for. And, at least in my world and line of work for the Church, I am still considered the minority. It doesn’t always feel good; in fact, it’s pretty uncomfortable at times. But the reality is that I’m, first and foremost, a child of God, and everything comes after that.

Jesus came so we might all be one. This is what I’m working toward, and this is one of the reasons why I’m black and Catholic. I’m also Catholic because of the Eucharist, and because of the 2,000 plus years of apostolic succession lived out by our Church. And though the Church in North America seems to be predominantly white, there are millions of Catholics around the world who are different races and ethnicities, and who speak a variety of languages. Every one of them belongs.

What Does This Mean?

Now, this doesn’t mean that my experience that day at my new church was OK. Rather, it means that we need to work harder to reach out to those who, on the surface, appear different than us. I later found out that a considerable number of black people lived in my new town, but they, too, felt that there was no one like them in the Catholic Church. As a result, they left the Church and began attending other Christian churches.

People of color leave the Church on the very notion that it is the “white church” and, for that reason, they don’t belong. Something needs to change, and it starts with you and me. Branch out; become comfortable with being uncomfortable; look beyond your clique of friends; study other cultures; strive for true diversity; and unite yourself under the banner of Christ, the banner of humanity.

About the Author

Paul Albert

Paul and his wife Anna have been Life Teen missionaries for over 7 years, along with their 4 children, aged 6 and under. They recently moved back to the U.S. after 6 years evangelizing the youth of the western coast of Haiti. Paul likes beatboxing with his kids and changing raps to make them Christian, attending a good prayer meeting, and all things manly.