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African-American and Latino faith leaders meet with advisors to Pope Francis

29th June 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Ryan Whirty
Contributing Writer

When high-ranking Vatican leaders recently met with representatives from the African-American and Latino communities to discuss the chronic problems of economic exclusion and how race and ethnicity play such a major role in the demographics of poverty, the meetings resonated here in New Orleans, where local Catholic leaders are actively putting Pope Francis’ messages of inclusion and “encounter” into action.

Dr. Ansel J. Augustine, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said attracting African Americans to the church and working to eradicate the plagues of racism and poverty are goals that can only be met by understanding and including Black culture and socioeconomics.

“One of the goals of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries is to highlight the gifts that African-American culture brings to the church,” Augustine said. “This is done through continuous collaboration with other entities — Catholic and non-Catholic — to make sure our voices are heard and our unique needs are understood.”

Augustine stressed that inclusion and partnership are two crucial themes to keep in mind when unlocking the puzzles of social, economic and racial justice.

“Through the connection with various Archdiocesan offices, Catholic Charities of New Orleans, and partnership with non-Catholic entities, such as religious institutions and service providers, we promote and try to address the social justice issues that the Black community, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, face,” he said. “All are welcome no matter their background and benefit from these services.”

He added that the NOLA area has one of the richest heritages of African-American Catholicism in the country, a fact that makes New Orleans the perfect place for the type of outreach efforts that are currently being conducted on a national and international scale.

Dr. Thomas Ryan, director of the Office of Ministry and Mission at Loyola University of New Orleans, agreed, saying the Crescent City’s racial and economic diversity makes it important for the Catholic Church — and, indeed, just about any social service organization — to understand the complexities of the socioeconomic challenges they are hoping to overcome here.

Ryan said that diversity is one of the city’s strengths and what makes it so unique. He added that Loyola mirrors New Orleans’ rich cultural and economic tapestry, a situation that lends itself to aiding the university in helping to address the complex issues that accompany that history and diversity.

“In general, Loyola reflects the ethnic and economic inclusion found in New Orleans,” Ryan said, “so that diversity is important to Loyola.”

Ryan placed the theme of church outreach to traditional underserved communities in New Orleans in the context of Pope Francis’ bold and broad “Year of Encounter,” a mission and ministry effort aimed at connecting with ethnic communities across the globe by simply meeting, or “encountering,” each other, where they are in the world, both geographically and socio-politically.

Ryan said the “Year of Encounter’s theme meshes perfectly with Loyola University’s overall purpose and mission, especially because the university is a Jesuit organization. The Jesuit order is a large force behind the recent summit between Vatican officials and African-American and Latino community leaders, as well as the Year of Encounter.

“Loyola’s commitment to justice and equality is in line with Pope Francis’ Year of Encounter,” Ryan said. “It’s central to the mission and purpose of the university.”

He added, “These [local] organizations have taken on the theme of encountering God in all His creation. Encountering takes place across all ethnic, economic and geographic lines. The idea is solidarity.

“It’s a powerful effort, and in New Orleans, the kind of encountering that needs to take place is the kind that crosses economic and racial boundaries. Pope Francis’ message is especially important in a city like New Orleans. It’s important in New Orleans, and [the outreach effort] can be better, and it has to be better.”

Earlier this month, a coalition of faith leaders from the PICO National Network — an Oakland, Calif.,-based organization of progressive, faith-centered groups — traveled to the Vatican to engage Catholic Church leaders who are carrying out the Pope’s Year of Encounter effort.

“This week, more than a dozen faith leaders and organizers with the PICO National Network from across the U.S. are at the Vatican for a series of meetings with Pope Francis’ top advisors to pull the veil off economic exclusion and racism and to deepen the narrative, in advance of the papal visit, about what is really hurting families in America,” stated a June 9 PICO press release.

“African-American and Latino delegation members with PICO, heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, are testifying before the Pope’s advisors specifically about the sins of racial oppression in the U.S. and the need to strengthen the voice of the Roman Catholic Church on these issues intensified by economic exclusion.

“The visit is part of PICO’s ongoing, national efforts through its ‘Year of Encounter’ campaign intended to offer context around economic exclusion, racism and some of the most pressing issues at the center of family struggles in the U.S., including low wages, criminalization of people of color, the immigration deportation machine and detention and police brutality.”

This article originally published in the June 29, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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