The Painful, Resilient History of America’s Black Catholics

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Black Catholics have a long history in the Americas that can teach the wider Church much about the importance of forgiveness, contemplation, community, and holistic spirituality, but more needs to be done to welcome them.

WASHINGTON — For Father Stephen Thorne, Black History Month is not only a chance to remember the struggles faced by the African-American community throughout the centuries.

It is also an opportunity to learn from the witness of one of the oldest communities of Catholics in the U.S.

This witness of Black Catholics, in the face of discrimination and animus, is a gift all Catholics can learn from, said Father Thorne, an African-American priest in the Philadelphia archdiocese.

“The resilience of African-American Catholics today is a sign of [their] great faith,” he told CNA.

Father Thorne is an administrator for the National Black Catholic Congress, which dates back to the late 19th century. The organization aims to promote the evangelization of African-American communities and improve their spiritual and physical conditions.

The history of Black Catholics in America reaches back centuries.

“African Americans have been Catholics since the earliest days of the colonies. We’ve been a part of the Church since the beginning. We’re not newcomers to the Catholic Church,” Father Thorne said.

In the 16th and 17th century, Spanish laws freed slaves who converted to Catholicism. Some of these freed slaves and their descendants formed their own settlement in the region that would become Florida.

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