Reflections for the Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities (Sept. 9)

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

We as Christians know that we are called to “love our neighbor as our self.” If we want peace we must work for justice – and peace does justice. The way of the world is to seek and hold on to power, to dominate the “other.” The racial strife we are now experiencing is about superiority. One group has made another group a threat to its privileged status. One group is in fear of the other. This otherness can be culturally, class, or racially based. No matter. If power is not used for the good of those under that power, peace cannot follow. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Power, if it is justly administered, must be done out of love. So love is the answer. If we are to have peace in our communities, we Catholics must be among those who are engaged in the struggle. “How?” you may ask. First and foremost, we must live our lives as though we believe in the Gospel. We must love one another as Christ loves us; love all of our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of our station in life, our race, our culture, or our religion. We must work with ministries and agencies which promote the equality of and equal opportunities for human beings. Be part of the solution. Be an “accepting” person. We live in a very culturally diverse society. We must accept this new reality. Intolerance is a learned behavior. It is learned at a young age. So, it is important that our efforts begin early on. Scripture is full of teaching on the merits of loving one’s neighbor. As the faithful, we should lead the way, by example.

There are programs which teach us how to develop this quality. Recent studies have shown that acceptance education is most effective between the ages of four and nine years of age, and several programs have been developed to help educators teach students how to relate to others from different backgrounds and cultures. One such pilot project Mix It Up at Lunch Day by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, which has begun in elementary, middle, high schools, and colleges nationwide. It encourages students to identify, question, and go beyond the restrictions of social boundaries.

For adults in ministry, ordained and lay, there are opportunities to obtain the skills to minister in a tolerant and loving manner to the diverse people of God. The Catholic bishops have developed programs which fall into the category of living out our call to embrace the other and make them our brother and sister. The Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers program teaches from the Catholic perspective the skills which are essential to bringing about peace and doing justice to all.

That is what our Lord has commanded of us: to “love one another as I have loved you.” These programs and many more can assist us in living out our lives as witnesses to Christ, the Prince of Peace and the author of justice for the entire world. We can be part of the solution.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.


Going Deeper

Join faith communities around the United States to celebrate the Sept. 9 Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.

Visit the USCCB webpage on Racism for a prayer card, Prayer of the Faithful, study  materials, and real stories of how faith communities are working for peace and racial justice.  You can also participate in the Sept. 14 YouTube Live event on Racial Justice.

Great is Our Faithfulness: Why Celebrate Black History Month

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Why do we celebrate Black History month? What does it mean to us as black Catholics?

Black people have experienced the faith in the context of enslavement, civil war, Jim Crow, separate and un-equal, the civil rights movement, and the post civil rights movement era. All the while, we for the most part have stayed true to our Catholic faith and to the stated beliefs of the United States of America. Our leaders, well known or not, have held on to the belief in the notion of the American experiment in equality of persons.

St. Pope John Paul II while addressing 1,800 African American Catholics in New Orleans on Sept. 12, 1987, encouraged African American Catholics to contribute the gift of who they are to the wider Church. That is good citizenship in the tradition of Catholic social teaching.

From the first, we hoped that there was a place for us here as members of the Church and society. We had to invent and re-invent ourselves many times over the years and we did. We believed what we read or had read to us from sacred Scripture, that Jesus came to save ALL God’s children. We kept that notion always as an anchor of our lives. Even in the dark days of enslavement, we had the kind of sustaining faith that allowed us to survive even the racism inside the Church and within the hearts of our white brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom owned us as property. Even in these worst of conditions, black people “knew” that community is the foundation of the soul of all people especially for us. We have always worked to make things better for ourselves and our children. There are no areas of endeavor that have not benefited from our participation.

There are examples of brave black people who distinguished themselves in the secular society, like Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first African American to reach the rank of General Officer in the United States Military; Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress; and Sidney Poitier, the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best actor. These are some who help us to celebrate our achievements as good and productive citizens of this country.

We, black Catholics, can also be proud of others who lived up to not only the social creed of this nation but also to the spiritual creed as well. This includes people such as Daniel Rudd, a black Catholic layman, activist, journalist, and publisher of the American Catholic Tribune “the only Catholic journal owned and published by colored men.” He also founded the Lay Catholic Congress movement. We recall Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first identified African American man to be ordained a priest for service in the United States. He had to go to Rome for his formation because no U.S. seminary would admit him. He persevered and braved discrimination inside as well as outside the church. He believed in and lived a life that considered all people as creations of God and are, therefore, good. He is an inspiration for all.  We also recall Mother Mary Lange, OSP who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious community for women of African descent.  She also founded a school that educated immigrant and enslaved children in Baltimore, Maryland when it was still illegal to educate black children. That school became St. Frances Academy, which is still in operation today as a co-ed High School.

These are just a few of the reasons we black Catholics should celebrate this month.

We are part of the heritage of this country. Our faithfulness in the belief that all men are created equal is a testament to our faithful citizenship. And, that is something to celebrate.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.  

Our Diversity Is Our Strength

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

When I was director of the Office of Black Catholics I was often asked these questions: “Why do we need an Office of Black Catholics? Doesn’t that promote division among us?”

These questions indicate the need to acknowledge that diversity is a part of who we are as a community. This outreach is not an indication of our divisions as much as it is an indication of the beauty of our diversity.

We need look no further than Scripture to see the place of diversity in the church. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds us of who we are as members of the body of Christ: “As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one spirit” (1Cor. 12:12-13). St. Paul’s message resonates for us today as we face the new reality of the church as being diverse within its unity.

Recognizing and addressing the need to have leadership reflect the face of the faithful has at times been a slow process. Our diversity is our strength and our beauty. We are a “patchwork quilt” of many pieces and each piece brings with it its own beauty that should not be lost within the overall quilt.

The message found in the New Testament is that we are all one in Christ, that we are our brothers’ keepers, and that God shows us how to be one with our brothers and sisters, as He became one of us. We, as followers of the Lord, must do all we can to mirror the life of Christ, we in leadership positions all the more. I call this “empathic leadership.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has reminded us that the shepherds must take on the smell of the sheep. By that, I believe that he also means that the shepherds should also look like the sheep.

As I look around me, today, I do not see a clergy and religious that reflect the reality of our present demographics. In this age of the New Evangelization, it is very important that the actions of the Church match the words of the Church. If the New Evangelization is to be a new beginning, then those who lead must be culturally, racially, and ethnically representative of the faithful. How can this be done?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is involved in a number of efforts to help.  For many years, I have served on the planning committee for the Diversity Outreach Initiative (DOI) at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. The goal of DOI is to develop leaders from diverse Catholic communities for ministry in the Church.  The initiative expresses our commitment to strengthen the Church’s social ministry by reaching out to Catholic ethnic, racial, and disability communities and encouraging members to lift up the richness and diversity of their gifts in our shared mission.

The USCCB has also adopted several priorities to assist ministers in the recognition of cultural diversity as a reality in the Church today and how it can be lived on a day-to-day basis. The USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church has taken up this challenge and created a way to begin to address ministry to the faithful in a more useful way. The result is the “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers” (BICM) program. The aim of BICM is to foster sensitivity to the various cultural, spiritual and worldviews that all who minister in the church will encounter in the “vineyard of the Lord.” The committee has identified six cultural “families” to be ministered to in the United States: African Americans, Native Americans, Asia and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos, migrants/refugees/travelers, as well European Americans. Ministering with sensitivity to the culture of those we encounter is one way to start to reclaim and to reactivate the missionary call, which is the very core of the life of the church.

If we are to grow the church in the “fields” we wish to evangelize, we need to actively grow the leaders from among those we evangelize. This means that our seminaries must be actively seeking vocations from men who come from those who make up the faithful in our area. We cannot just invite them, we must go out and “make disciples”. Our diocesan offices must be populated by people who look like the faithful. We must be all things to all people.

The church must embrace our diversity as strength and not as a weakness. We must thank God for the wonder of the diversity of his creation and use it as he intended, so that all may be one and share his love with all.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.  


Learn more about building unity in diversity and developing diverse leaders at We are Salt and Light, a project of Justice, Peace and Human Development/USCCB.