Equity and Inclusion


In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters began by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.

Since January 2021, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters have collaborated on a project to provide information on prominent Black and Indigenous Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.

In May of 2022, Kevin D. Hofmann was named the founding Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Congregation. With the goal of normalizing conversations about race and culture and discussing what it means to feel included and excluded, Kevin began contributing to this blog in June of 2022 and shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit.

 

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Black Catholic Project: Liturgical Dance and African Popes

Artistic renderings of the three African Popes

Black Catholic Project: Liturgical Dance
and African Popes

A recent article in the online newsletter Black Catholic Messenger recounts how when a Black Catholic Parish in Mobile Alabama tweeted a video of a teenage parishioner using her gift of dance to praise God during Mass "the reaction from Catholic Twitter was swift – and it was ugly." Most of these comments were decrying the violation of the beauty and sanctity of the Roman Liturgy, born in the Latin Mass of old. It would probably surprise many of the "tweeters" that the Roman Liturgy and the Latin Mass that they so revere is African in origin – brought to Rome by the early African popes.

While it can seem to the contemporary mind that the Roman Church and the papacy is a purely European institution, the early popes, in fact, reflected the diversity of the early Church – a Church that was born in the Middle East and spread around the Mediterranean basin, from Greece to Rome and the Iberian Peninsula and with great success to North Africa. "North Africa was the Bible belt of early Christianity," said Christopher Bellitto, a Church historian at Kean University in New Jersey, "and Carthage was the buckle," he added, referring to the city located in modern-day Tunisia (Religion News Service).

So it should be no surprise that three early popes hailed from that region: the 14th pope, Victor I (circa 189-198 A.D.); the 32nd pope, Miltiades (311-314 A.D.); and the 49th pope, Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.). All three of these popes are saints in the Roman Church.

Pope Victor I

The earliest known African to become pope was Victor I, who was born and raised in the Africa Proconsularis of Rome, which today includes Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria. Pope Victor is best known for setting the date of Easter on a Sunday. Prior to this, there had been disputes about whether to celebrate the feast on Passover — the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan — or on the Sunday closest to that date. And Pope Victor’s great innovation was encouraging the use of his native Latin as the language of worship in the city of Rome, as opposed to Greek, the language of the New Testament.

Pope Miltiades

Pope Miltiades was born in Africa and was the first pope to have an official residence in Rome, thanks to the Emperor Constantine and his mother, St. Helen. Miltiades is said to have lived in the Lateran Palace, making it the first official papal residence. It remained so for 1,000 years and was the site of the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929. This treaty formed the Vatican City State. Miltiades is considered the founder of the Basilica of St. John Lateran and was the last pope to be buried in the catacombs in Rome.

Pope Gelasius I

Pope Gelasius was the 49th pope and is believed to have been either born in Rome or in Africa, but was definitely a Roman citizen of African descent. He was devoted to the Mass and wrote many hymns and prayers and even arranged a missal. He also ordered that the Eucharist be received under both species. The Gelasian Sacramentary from the eighth century is named in his honor. During a time of famine and unrest, Pope Gelasius showed distinct leadership in demanding the affluent Romans donate money for the relief of the poor of the city.

 

One last note for those inclined to dance in church:

In 1988, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approved the "Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire." Today, the Congolese Rite is the only enculturated rite approved for use by the Catholic Church. Dancing, especially during the offertory, is a key part of this rite. Pope Francis said in Dec. 2020, "The experience of the Congolese rite of celebrating the Mass can serve as an example and model for other cultures."

So dance on happy feet and thank our African sisters and brothers for this rite of praise.

 

Resources

General

"African Popes," St. Benedict the Moor Parish, Milwaukee, WI

"Has there ever been a black or African pope?" Religion News Service, March 1, 2013

"PROFESSING FAITH: Catholic Church had three African popes in early centuries," by Redlands Daily Facts, September 24, 2014

"Were there any Black popes?" By Patricia Kasten, The Compass, February 2, 2022

"A tweet in time: Black Catholics in the age of liturgical shaming," by Nate Tinner-Williams, Black Catholic Messenger, August 12, 2022

The Zairean Rite

"Explainer: What is the Zaire rite—and why is Pope Francis talking about it now?" America Magazine

"Pope Francis: The Zairean Rite is a 'promising model' for the Amazon," Vatican News

Video: "Holy Mass in the Zaire Rite, with Pope Francis on the 1st Sunday of Advent 1 December 2019"

 


Reflection Question

Africa has given the Church more than popes, saints and the Latin language, Africa and Africans give the Church a deep heritage of the wholeness of mind, body and spirit; the goodness of creation; and the centrality of community.

Where do you treasure the influence of Africa in your life?

 


Prayer

Please read the "Great Spirit!" prayer by Rozwi of South Africa, from An African Prayer Book by Desmond Tutu.
(After clicking the link, scroll halfway down the page to find this prayer.)

 

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Avatar  Marie Skebe 5 months agoReply

Thank you for helping us see the richness that our African brothers and sisters have brought to our Catholic Church. So grateful for their gifts!

Avatar  Marie Skebe 5 months agoReply

I have experienced liturgical dance/movement during many Masses and find it a beautiful way of responding totally to our God's generous gifts. Witnessing the grace of the dancer calls me into deeper response to my God. I was anxious to follow the links offered and to read what others thought...and see for myself what the comments referred to. Through exquisite movement, Blakely beautifully expressed what it means to allow our loving God to heal us, and the tremendous joy and gratitude to which it leads!
It interesting to note that those who used this tweet to complain of "dance during Mass" didn't even seem to realize that this "performance" happened along with other prelude music - before the Mass even began!



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People of African Descent on the Path to Sainthood

Printable bookmark of African Americans on their Way to Sainthood (PDF)

U.S. Black Catholic History Links

Black Catholic History page by Seattle University

Timeline from the National Black Catholic Congress

Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP, discusses Black Catholics in America with Dr. Paul Lakeland for Fairfield University's "Voices of Others" video series

News report on one of the oldest Black Catholic parishes in the U.S., St. Elizabeth Catholic Church (formerly St. Monica) in Chicago, Illinois