The Catholic Church just celebrated a major milestone, the elevation of the first African American Cardinal in history, His Eminence Wilton Cardinal Gregory, the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington D.C.
Did you know the Catholic Church was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement and that there are currently several African Americans in the process of being canonized? In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this lesson will highlight how the Catholic Church has served as a force for equality and justice in the United States as well as draw attention to the incredible contributions African Americans have made to the Church.
The word Catholic means universal. As Catholics, we are united as one Body of Christ regardless of our race, nationality, skin color or anything else. It is this beautiful reality we will be exploring over the next two weeks.
Introduction Video and Opening Prayer
Note: Parents of young children, especially those with children still learning to read, are welcome to summarize and adapt lesson texts rather than reading them verbatim. Feel free to creatively adapt, supplement, and/or omit certain lesson materials to better meet your children’s educational level.
In the book of Genesis, we learn that God created Adam and Eve in his image and likeness. This means that God loves us so much, he wants us to be like him. Because we are all made in God’s image and likeness, we all deserve to be treated equally and with dignity and respect.
Sadly throughout history, people have at times forgotten this very important lesson from the beginning of the Bible. The sin of racism refers to treating someone or a group of people as though they do not deserve the same dignity and rights as everyone else on account of their race.
Both the Church and the Bible teach that racism is very wrong and offensive to God. Jesus teaches us to “Love one another as I have loved you.” ( John 13:34) Jesus loves all of us perfectly and wants us to love one another the same way. This is why he gives us the golden rule; do you know what it is? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The golden rule tells us to treat others the way we want to be treated. Nobody wants to be treated differently because of the color of their skin. God loves all of us and created us to love and be loved.
The Declaration of Independence contains these famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Throughout history, the United States has tried to live up to this ideal and has accomplished amazing things! However, there have been many times where the country has fallen short of this goal.
In the Bible, we see story after story of people who fell short of God’s plan, but who were redeemed by his love and mercy. In a similar way, when our country has fallen short of its ideals, God has graced us with men and women who have fought to make our country a better place. Every year on the third Monday of January, we celebrate one of those people: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King was not a Catholic himself, but throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, he worked with many Catholic leaders to help end racist policies in the United States. He led many marches in the southern United States that captured the country and the world’s attention. Many Catholic, priests, nuns, and laypeople travelled from all over the country to take part in these marches.
When we were baptized, we all received a share in Jesus’ work on Earth, particularly His work as priest, prophet, and king. What does that mean for us and the Civil Rights Movement? It means we can share in Christ’s priestly work by offering prayers and small daily sacrifices for the end of racism in our country and around the world. We can share in Christ’s prophetic work by continuing to proclaim the truth that God loves all of us and that we are made in God’s image and likeness. Finally, we share in Christ’s kingly role when we lead by example, loving each other the way Jesus taught us to.
This lesson’s featured saint is actually someone who is still in the process of becoming a saint – Venerable Augustus Tolton. Do you remember what it means when we say someone is venerable? Below, you will find a game to help you review what we learned about saints. If you want to refresh your memory before playing the game, go back to Lesson 4.
Venerable Augustus Tolton was the first African American priest in the United States. He was born a slave and overcame many challenges in the process of gaining his freedom, overcoming racism, and becoming a priest. On June 11, 2019, Pope Francis declared he had lived a life of heroic virtue and would receive the title “Venerable”
Learn more about this inspiring future saint in the following video:
Let Us Pray
A very traditional form of Catholic prayer is known as a litany. Litanies are repetitive prayers that help you meditate on a particular topic. Perhaps the most famous litany is the litany of the saints which repeatedly asks the various saints of heaven to pray for us. Because there are too many saints to name, we have to decide which saints to include in a particular litany.
The following litany is made up entirely of Black Catholic Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God. Pray it together as a family. If you encounter someone you have never heard of, try doing some research on them. You may find that they become a new friend in Heaven!
This litany is just a small sample of the many holy black men and women throughout history as well as today who have made and continue to make an incredible difference in the life of the Church and the world.
Live it Out Activity
This lesson’s Live It Out Activity is to leave a comment with your family’s answer to one of the discussion questions from the opening video. Then, once you have finished your comment, reply to another family’s as well.
Let’s have a great discussion about this important topic!
More to Explore
Read more about the history of African American Catholics (I highly recommend this article!)
Complete the craft above to learn more about the only Vatican approved Marian apparition from Africa!