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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

February 2001

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

    • Christian lifestyles—racial harmony; community-building
    • Social Sciences—multiculturalism; historical contributions of black people in America
Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

  • Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
  • Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of



Racial prejudice

Gospel Mass





Culture gap/black culture

Media image


Racial relations


European-centered Church

Civil-rights movement


Creating Community

"The test of every institution or policy is whether it enhances or threatens human life and human dignity." In a 1999 series of articles on subtle racism in Today's Catholic Teacher, Maria Webb of the Office of Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Chicago writes of the need to create true community within the Church and society.

Ms. Webb says it is we who create community. In the parish, in the school, in the family, community is our difficult but attainable goal. She offers guidelines for community-building, which include evaluating our assumptions about people and culture in the light of the Gospel, not on the basis of stereotypes. Institutions, however, will not change until the individual faces changes. Where do we start? she asks. With an honest self-examination.

There are some who believe we all carry racism in our hearts. If we start with this assumption—at least a trace of bias and ignorance lives in every heart—we can then work toward opening our hearts further to others. We accept our wrongful feelings and go on from there.

This assumption helps us admit we don't know all that others think and feel. White people, for example, cannot assume that black Catholics feel welcome in predominantly white parishes, no matter what is preached, no matter what kind of programs are in place. For example, see "Black men ponder their place in the Church" in the National Catholic Reporter. Black men feel ignored and taken for granted by Church decision-makers, according to the article.

This month's St. Anthony Messenger article describes the culture gaps that exist, or are perceived to exist, between races and ethnic groups. Many Catholics have inherited, and live in, a European-centered Church. Liturgical celebrations, music, ways of expressing emotion, prayer language—all come through a European heritage.

For peoples from Latin American cultures and from Afrocentric cultures, to cite just two examples, celebrating Mass in a predominantly Caucasian parish can be an uncomfortable experience. For people to truly feel welcome at the liturgy, they need to identify with the expressions of prayer and celebration. They should want to come back again.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, a major document of Vatican II, states that "efforts must also be made to encourage a sense of community within the parish, above all in the common celebration of the Sunday Mass." Community-building within and through liturgy is critical.

Members of St. Peter Claver Parish in St. Inigoes, Maryland, share their thoughts about why they belong to the predominantly black parish. "I feel so welcome here" is the common thread of all the comments.

What can a parish or a school do to eliminate ignorance and create open hearts? We can, for one thing, look for direction in the many parishes and diocesan organizations that have put education and formation programs in place. St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan, developed a comprehensive pastoral plan. The parishioners call themselves "a welcoming, evangelizing community, striving to be accepting and inclusive of all people." Part of their ministerial focus includes social justice. The parish is adopting a parish in Latin America, and offers parishioners the opportunity to immerse themselves in Latin American culture and reciprocate with invitations to bring Latin Americans to St. Francis.

Michael Liberato, a member of the Committee for the Advancement of Racial Equality in Lansing, Michigan, suggests that parishes host meetings where two neighborhoods can meet. The Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance conducts a bridge-building program to bring parishioners of different cultures together.

This month's article describes a retreat program for youth within the black community sponsored by the Diocese of Oakland in California. Their African American Catholic Pastoral Center's mission statement aims to enrich the Church in Oakland with the "precious and unique gift of blackness which the Church needs—especially at this moment in her history." The services and programs offered by the Pastoral Center include: African-American youth ministry leadership development; Africentric liturgical consultation; and adult religious education featuring black theology, black Catholic history and spirituality.

Eradicating the Disease of Racism

Father Clarence Williams of the Archdiocese of Detroit developed the Institute for Recovery from Racisms, a program that attempts to address and treat the racisms so prevalent in our society. He cites white supremacy as a dysfunction that results in not one racism but in racisms. His suggested formats for recovery from racisms are personal recovery, recovery working groups and focal support groups. These are similar to those used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help groups.

The program's recovery stages are initially based on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's death and dying stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Williams adds re-engagement, forgiveness and witness as further recovery stages.

The goal of the Williams's Institute is "new family formation." The recovering person moves toward an intentional belonging to a new family of human beings that sees every person as a sister and a brother.

Related Web Resources

National Black Catholic Congress

Xavier University in New Orleans, and the Institute of Black Catholic Studies

St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

Martin de Porres biography

Oblate Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of the Holy Family

The Archdiocese of Chicago

National Black Sisters Conference

The main library for St. Thomas University in Florida has an extensive list of publications and files on civil and human rights, education and the family. The university library houses documents for the National Office for Black Catholics.

To Stand on the Rock, Joseph A. Brown, Orbis Books. Meditations on black Catholic identity.

You can send a St. Martin de Porres e-Greeting from

Research Resources
Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.
People magazine
The Close Up FoundationWashington, D.C.-based organization

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