At the 2017 Association of U.S. Catholic Priests assembly held in Atlanta from June 19 - 22, FutureChurch, Voice of the Faithful, and AUSCP formally launched DeaconChat, a joint initiative encouraging laity and clergy to dialogue about women deacons. The packet contains historical, theological, and pastoral reasons for restoring women deacons along with tools for starting a conversation with bishops and priests.
The theme of this year's AUSCP conference was "Peacemaking in Our Fractured Society" and focused on healing the racial divide in the world and within the Church. This year's AUSCP John XXIII award winner, Fr. Brian Massingale, opened the conference with a survey of the tragic violence being perpetrated against African Americans today along with a thorough analysis of the historical root causes. He also carefully outlined the complicity of the Catholic Church in perpetuating racism historically and today. During the Q & A period after Massingale’s presentation, some priests expressed anxiety about challenging racism in their largely white parishes. They worried that people would not listen, or even leave if the message was too uncomfortable. But Fr. Massingale’s response was poignant. “Who are your people?" He also wanted to know, “Why do white people matter more than our black brothers and sisters who are suffering?" and participants were reminded of the truth of the old adage that the Gospel is meant to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."
Fr. Clarence Williams, Fr. Kenneth Taylor, and other priests from the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus led Mass with a liturgy of lament where participants reflected on the many ways we still perpetuate racism in our culture and in the Church. They reminded mass-goers of the African American men and women who had been turned away from the Catholic Church including Fr. Augustus Tolton (1854-1897), a former slave, who could not enter the seminary in the United States because he was black. He went to Rome to obtain the education and formation he needed to become a priest and was ordained there in 1886. He came back to the United States and founded the first black Catholic church in Chicago.
In the evenings, participants gained a greater historical perspective on racism watching the documentary "I am Not Your Negro" based on James Baldwin's writings. They also viewed "Hidden Figures," the story of African American women at NASA. On the last day of the conference, participants made a pilgrimage to Ebenezer Baptist Church where they walked in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the many leaders of the Civil Rights movement. They ended with Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the first Black Catholic Church in Atlanta where the Gospel music and liturgical dance lent to an uplifting liturgy.
To read Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s report on the assembly, go to: https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/us-priests-association-wants-focus-formation