After a visit delayed, like so much else, by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., was able to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, at Saint Catherine Labouré Parish, Harrisburg.
Cardinal Gregory, the first African-American Cardinal in the United States, celebrated the Black Catholic Apostolate Mass in honor of Black History Month.
The Gospel reading was Luke 6:17, 20-26, known to the faithful, of course, as The Beatitudes.
Americans “like to claim that we possess a tremendous sense of impartiality, or what we would like to consider fairness,” Cardinal Gregory said. “However, as keen as our sense of fairness may be, it can never be equated with God’s justice. If there is any lesson that the Beatitudes attempt to teach us, it is that God’s justice and our sense of fairness are clearly not exactly the same thing.”
“The Beatitudes are a topsy-turvy way of looking at life. The Beatitudes are designed for people who realize that life may be unfair, but that God is always just – even in the face of the many injustices that everyone encounters. We African-Americans have had to rely on that truth too often throughout the history of our nation as we have had to face discrimination and bigotry,” Cardinal Gregory said.
“We learn pretty early in life that sometimes bad things do happen to good people. The Beatitudes are a fundamental lesson in God’s justice,” he said.
“The Beatitudes are a lesson on how to transform the heart and the way that we see the use of our good fortune and attend to the plight of our poor and less fortunate sisters and brothers. The Beatitudes are a resounding call to rid ourselves of any disdain or hatred toward the poor, the neglected, and the disadvantaged,” he continued.
“The Beatitudes according to both Saint Luke and Saint Matthew challenge us to work for justice for all people – to renounce all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, or intolerance of the religious freedom of other people. For those who believe in the Beatitudes, there can be no place in their hearts for hatred,” Cardinal Gregory said.
His homily resonated deeply with the faithful in attendance.
MariaAdelaide Mendy, originally from Gambia, said, “It was beautiful, very inspiring.” She attends the Black Catholic Apostolate Mass every year.
“It was a privilege to see him again. I attended Mass in Atlanta, when he was the Bishop there. I’m honored to attend Mass again when he is a Cardinal.
Reverend James Lease, Pastor of Saint Catherine Labouré Parish, was delighted to have hosted the Cardinal for the Mass. “We have had Mass in French for the African francophone community,” he said. “I am most honored to have the Cardinal and Bishop Gainer celebrate Mass here. It was a joyful experience.”
“Many of our best theologians have been African,” he added, before rattling off a list of names. “I’m very happy to be celebrating the gifts of the Black community.”
Tresor Babnga loved the message of the homily: “You don’t have to discriminate,” just love, he said. When he first heard that Cardinal Gregory was coming to Saint Catherine, “I didn’t believe it, it was crazy!” He was so excited to attend, he added.
Angele Mbassi, coordinator of the Diocesan Black Catholic Apostolate, also had nothing but praise. “It was a very great homily. I know him as a great man.” The homily’s emphasis on “justice of God for people” really resonated with her: “God always has the last word.”
Jim Gontis, Director of Evangelization for the Diocese, stressed the need to emphasize that “The multicultural nature of the Church is very important. The enculturation of the faith is part of what it is to be Catholic universal.”
There is a need to celebrate, “the contributions of the Black Catholic faithful and also the Church universal,” he added.
By Lauren Gross, Special to The Witness