Notre Dame Hosts Black Catholic Theology Symposium

Black Catholic Theological Symposium

In October, the Black Catholic Theology Symposium (BCTS) hosted its 31st annual meeting on Notre Dame’s campus. The BCTS is a national, interdisciplinary theological society that seeks to foster a community of Black Catholic scholars and practitioners interested in dialogue that addresses the humanity of all people and contributes to a theology that is simultaneously Black and Catholic. They promote this duality by teaching about Black Catholic experiences at colleges, universities, and seminaries, identifying Black Catholic theology scholars and practitioners, and publishing the findings of the symposium and its members.

This year’s symposium was sponsored by the University’s departments of Africana studies and theology, and featured two public lectures, two days of private meetings, invitation only listening sessions, and a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

The first public address was offered by M. Shawn Copeland, a professor emeritus from Boston College. It was titled “#BlackLivesMatter as Public Theology,” and was a reflection on how the Black Lives Matter movement is a performative form of theology that addresses the conditions and dignity of the marginalized and oppressed.

The second lecture, “The Catholic Church and the Racial Divide in the United States” by Bishop Edward K. Braxton, the Bishop Emeritus of Belleville, Illinois, focused on the history and future of African American participation in the Catholic Church and what that means for the vitality of the Church. The event was co-hosted by Notre Dame’s Africana Studies Colloquy on Black Church Studies, an initiative that began in 2013 to provide a platform for discussions about the Black Church.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., thanked the BCTS and said, “It is a great privilege to Notre Dame to host this conference, and we’ll continue to work with you to reveal the great riches of the African American Catholic tradition here in this Church in America and to work with you in scholarly conferences like this one, in pastoral support, and in educating the next generation of African American Catholic leaders. It is something we’re committed to, and we thank you for your partnership and great work.”

As a conclusion to the symposium, Cardinal Gregory offered an inculturated Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. His homily focused the day’s Gospel (Mark 10:17–30), where the rich man asked Jesus how he can inherit eternal life. He encouraged the audience to follow the advice given in that Gospel: Turn to Jesus with everything you have. Stop relying on wealth, authority, intelligence, race, culture, and other worldly things. In turning to God, and to the Eucharist, Catholics can usher more good into the world around them, he explained.

He said, “We are transformed by the way we celebrate and by the mystery we celebrate. Moreover, we are invited to transform the world in which we live by that same vision and by that same mystery. It is more than simply a quality of life issue, it is a call to live the fullness of life, even now. And to pursue justice for all who are our brothers and sisters, across those barriers of privilege and discrimination that so often divide us. May our desire to work for justice be the spark we take from this Eucharist. Amen.”