“What We Have Seen and Heard”
Celebrates 25th Anniversary
(Seated, left to
right: Most Reverends-Joseph A. Francis, SVD; Harold R. Perry, SVD;
Joseph L. Howze; Eugene A. Marino, SSJ; James P. Lyke, OFM;
Standing, left to right- Most Reverends Wilton D. Gregory; Emerson
J. Moore; Moses B. Anderson, SSE; J. Terry Steib, SVD; John H.
In each generation, the Spirit gives a specific
assignment to it’s spiritual leaders. The assignment given usually
is a unique, yet prophetic call to move God’s people to a higher
level of mission. This is what happened twenty five years ago (1984)
when the African American Catholic Bishops acted in unison to speak
about evangelization within the African American Catholic community
through the Pastoral Letter, “What We Have Seen and Heard” .
This was a Letter to us about evangelization.
In its Introduction, the Black Bishops speak… “Within
the history of every Christian community there comes a time when it
reaches adulthood. This maturity brings with it the duty, the
privilege and the joy to share with others the rich experience of
the ‘Word of Life.’ Always conscious of the need to hear the Word
and ever ready to listen to its proclamation, the mature Christian
community feels the irresistible urge to speak that Word … We write
to you, Black brothers and sisters, because each one of us is called
to a special task. The Holy Spirit now calls all to the work of
At that hour, the Black Bishops called to memory a
quote of Pope Paul VI to the peoples of Africa when he said to them
in Kampala in Uganda:” You are now missionaries to yourselves”…And
Pope Paul VI laid out for all sons and daughters of Africa the
nature of the response: “You must now give your gifts of Blackness
to the whole Church ( The Pope Speaks, 1969 Symposium in Kampala,
Twenty five years ago, through this landmark
document, the Black Bishops speak of the role that culture plays in
the ministry of evangelization. “There is a richness in our Black
experience that we must share with the entire People of God.” A
discussion on the universality of the Catholic Church follows the
previously mentioned statement. The Bishops then remind us that to
be “universal does not mean to be uniformed”, instead a sharing of
the gift of Blackness is our part of building up the whole Church.
They continue…”We have heard with Black ears and we have seen with
Black eyes and we have understood with an African heart”. It is
through this understanding of culture and the universality of the
Church that the Black Bishops call forth the specific task of
African American Catholics to evangelize among our own… “it is our
way to witness to our brothers and sisters within the Black
community that the Catholic Church is both one and also home to us
The Pastoral Letter “What We Have Seen and Heard”
also discusses and provides other strategies for evangelizing. They
African American spirituality is based on
Sacred Scripture and the hope it promises .
Proclaiming that the
“good news” is a message of liberation and
that evangelization calls for forgiveness and reconciliation…
“Without justice, meaningful reconciliation is impossible.”
interest and outreach on the family and the extended family. Church
is extended family, that is why we call each other Brother and
Sister. Our Parishes can evangelize just through family outreach and
being family to one another, especially when family-hood is
Confronting racism as
it particularly impacts Black men and at the same time calling forth
Black men in their role of fostering a “vocation of fatherhood”
and to assert their spiritual strength.
Supporting the role of
women as sources of strength
and examples of courage.
values, “especially new life within the mother,
has always been a value to Africans and to African Americans…
as a people of faith, it is our task to fight for the right
of all of our children and in all the circumstances of their
Sr. Thea Bowman said,
“if you want vocations then each family and individual must raise
within our families.” We’ve got to place into the imagination and
heart of our young ones
the awesome blessing and joy of serving God
and God’s people
as Priest, Brother, Deacon or as a Religious Women.
within our evangelization efforts.
“What We Have Seen and Heard” was
issued on the feast day (September 9,)
of St. Peter Claver, who compassionately worked among Africans who
In the coming months, let us examine this wonderful
Pastoral Letter with prayerful review and assess our
within our parishes and organizations.
The Spirit that moved among the ten Black Bishops of yesterday to
Pastoral Letter still has a potent force today,
to stir the souls of those who strive to please God.
Let’s “report for duty!”
For a copy of the Letter call 410-625-8472.