Published March 29, 2007
These congresses were begun by Daniel Rudd, a layman and the son of slaves from the Bardstown, Ky., area in the late 1880s. He organized five such congresses that were held from 1889 until 1894, and then the initiative lay dormant for more than 90 years until it was revived in 1987 with Congress VI in Washington, D.C.
These events, like other national religious gatherings, provide an opportunity for people to reconnect and to reestablish friendships, to design programs for local communities, and to review the progress achieved in many different areas.
What is amazing is that these congresses began exclusively as lay movements, with ordinary lay men and women of color coming together to strengthen each other’s Faith, to promote evangelization within the African-American community, and to address ecclesial, social, and cultural issues that may have had no other forum at the time. When Daniel Rudd began the national congresses, there were very few African-American clergy and Religious to initiate such activities. Father Augustus Tolton, the first recognized African-American Catholic priest in the United States, celebrated Mass at the first congress. The leadership of the laity was vital for the work of the Church, then as well as today.
As I listened to the discussions that took place at Our Lady of Lourdes, it was clear to me from the people who participated in the planning session that the laity still have a strong sense of what needs to be done in the Church in the area of evangelization, formation of the young, and the spiritual revitalization of communities and individuals.
The theme of Congress X is “Christ Is With Us: Celebrating the Gifts of the Sacraments.” The organizers of the congress invite all the participants to reflect on the meaning and the place of the Sacraments in our lives. What an appropriate conversation for every Catholic to pursue. And in many respects, the outcome of these discussions will have much to offer the entire Church.
Our delegation to Congress X will be determined over the next several months, and I am looking forward to being with them in Buffalo where it will be my privilege to preside at the closing Mass on Sunday, July 15.
Atlanta has a vibrant community of Catholics who share an African heritage, including many stalwart native-born sons and daughters, transplants from other parts of our nation, and more recent arrivals from Central and Latin America, nations in Africa and the Caribbean islands. This diverse community of peoples bodes well for the future growth of the Church here in North Georgia.
We are a complex group of peoples who speak several different languages, come from diverse backgrounds, and face specific challenges as we bring our gifts to the Church. Yet the Sacraments that we share unite us to each other and to all Catholics, and therefore it is a most opportune theme for Congress X to pursue in reviewing how the Sacraments are a source of our unity in Christ. I am particularly grateful to Charles Prejean, who is orchestrating our preparation for Congress X. His love for the Church and his devotion to the Archdiocese of Atlanta will serve us well during this preparatory time and throughout the congress and the implementation of its outcome.