By Kyle Taylor
Once in awhile, an experience comes along that greatly opens one’s eyes to the world. Things taken for granted come to the forefront of the mind; new things are learned about old friends; one might even learn a thing or two about themselves in the process.
I was lucky enough to take part in one such experience recently. I attended National Black Catholic Congress XI in Indianapolis last month along with members of my church family from St. Ambrose Parish in Park Heights. I was an adult chaperone, as the primary focus of our journey was for the members of our youth group to be a part of this experience, but I was still able to leave the conference a more enlightened and conscious individual than when I arrived.
The number of people in attendance initially stood out to me. There were undoubtedly thousands of people from different parts of the country, if not the world, who had descended upon this Midwestern city – one mostly known for various sporting events and teams than for being home to black Catholics.
The fact that everyone in attendance was a black Catholic was astonishing yet humbling. African-Americans are known for being religious and spiritual. However, not many out there link African-Americans with Catholicism. If you’re black and attend church, it’s normally assumed you attend either a Baptist or A.M.E. church, but almost never a Catholic church. Seeing black Catholics in the thousands was in essence a thunderous assertion that there are others like me across this nation.
As expected, there were a number of workshops and speakers at the conference, tasked with helping and encouraging those in attendance in overcoming the pitfalls in life, whether they be in our personal, professional or spiritual lives. One workshop I attended was called “Where Did All the Time Go: Spiritual Practices for Busy Christians.” The speaker, Dr. C. Vanessa White, stressed that no matter how busy our lives, we should always find time for God. Always. White spoke from her own personal experiences, and gave suggestions and resources as to how to go about doing this. As someone guilty of having multiple social media accounts and email addresses, and always having my iPhone within my sight, her words definitely hit home.
Immaculee Illibagiza, a Rwandan author, spoke at one of the daily general sessions and recounted how she survived the Rwandan genocide. The most touching part of her story was how she used her faith not only to mentally survive that ordeal, but how she eventually learned to forgive those who committed the atrocities against her and her family.
It made me reflect on the times I was angry and resentful at those who wronged me, and even the times I was angry at God for allowing it to happen. Her story made me feel embarrassed and a bit ashamed – if she can learn to forgive after her experiences, surely I can as well. God definitely spoke to me through her, making me realize how truly blessed I have been.
The greatest aspect of the conference, however, was the youths of my church experiencing this event. It was a blessing taking them to a different city and watching them interact with young adults just like themselves, who talked with different accents and dressed differently, but still held the same beliefs. The proudest moment was when Uchechi Azike, a young adult from my church, confidently spoke in front of the entire session about the call to action plan the youths came up with during one of their workshops. I’m not a parent, but I imagine that’s how one feels watching his or her child do well.
There aren’t enough words to say how truly blessed I was to experience all that I did in Indianapolis. It gave me the chance to examine myself and reflect on my own spiritual journey. It also showed me that the faith of the younger generation need not be questioned. The future of the church is in good hands.
A follow-up meeting from the Congress will be held Aug. 11, from noon to 2:30 p.m. All are welcome, including those who did not attend the Congress. Call 410-625-8472 for more information.
Kyle Taylor is a parishioner of St. Ambrose, Park Heights.
Copyright (c) Aug. 9, 2012 CatholicReview.org