Lesson 8: “One Body in Christ” – The Catholic Church and the Civil Rights Movement

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


Go Deeper


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.

“God loves all of us and created us to love and be loved.”

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.


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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.


Featured Saint

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

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

Learn more about some African American men and women on the road to sainthood.

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!

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Josephine Morabito
Josephine Morabito
6 months ago

I chose treat your neighbor as yourself means to treat everyone as you want to be treated.

sassakd
sassakd
6 months ago
Reply to  youthstmm

Great idea! We chose the same one for the same reason.

kurtinaitisfamily
kurtinaitisfamily
6 months ago

Our family thinks that we should treat people the way you want to be treated, that is a good rule that everybody should follow.

maravolo
maravolo
6 months ago
Reply to  youthstmm

We agree! All things are possible through Christ!

amandanorton
amandanorton
5 months ago

I agree, the way I want my family and I to be treated is with respect, and courtesy, as do we treat others.

andreakirila
andreakirila
6 months ago

The Kirila Family thinks to make this world a better, more loving place, we need to spread positivity and joy to others.

raufamily
raufamily
6 months ago
Reply to  andreakirila

yes! sprinkle the JOY of Jesus around like confetti!!!

1family
1family
5 months ago
Reply to  andreakirila

Our family agrees. We discussed that this could be through small actions that can make a big difference (holding the door for someone, smiling at others, and even asking “how are you?”)

Nicholas14
Nicholas14
5 months ago
Reply to  1family

We think this is absolutely right. Love and kindness make a difference to everyone.

BlushFamily
BlushFamily
5 months ago
Reply to  1family

We discussed something very similar! We also talked about the starfish story – you may not save all of them, but you will make a huge difference in the lives of those that you can save.

maravolo
maravolo
6 months ago

We chose question number 4: As Catholics, how can we make the world a better place? Madeline said she can be more kind to others. Thomas said he will become a priest. Nathaniel said he will become a saint. Pray for us!

doggettm
doggettm
5 months ago
Reply to  maravolo

We agree to spread the kindness and selected the same discussion question. Love to hear your children’s responses. God Bless.

sassakd
sassakd
6 months ago

To Love our neighbor as ourselves means you should treat others nicely just like you would want to be treated.

raufamily
raufamily
6 months ago

We enjoyed the connection of the Civil Rights Movement & the church. It tied nicely into our school & history lesson this past week. We talked about the many people like MLK jr & Rosa Parks as well as saints that made a difference in the world & discussed what we can do as a family & individually to make the world a better, more loving place?! We talked about seeking to understand one another, praying for the world, serving our community near & far, and sharing God’s word and spreading the gospel.

burdickcrew
burdickcrew
5 months ago
Reply to  youthstmm

What a great response. We really liked understanding others. I think more understanding and less judgement will help make this world a more loving place.

HamiltonFamily
HamiltonFamily
5 months ago
Reply to  raufamily

We really felt it was important to spend time discussing this as a family as well. It’s a good way to start off the year, thinking about how to better the world the way that Dr. King did.

BlanckFamily
BlanckFamily
5 months ago
Reply to  raufamily

We love how you said understanding one another.We may not always agree with others but if we understand, we can still show them love and respect.

nizolfamilygmailcom
nizolfamilygmailcom
5 months ago
Reply to  raufamily

yes! our family also saw the connections between civil rights history and current racial justice movements with our church. Praying for our universal church!

LaCombefamily
LaCombefamily
5 months ago
Reply to  raufamily

We talked about this as well. MY daughter learns more about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement Each year and this was a nice way to bring the actions of the church and what we can do as Catholics into the conversation.

HubertFamily
HubertFamily
6 months ago

Our family also agrees that the “Golden Rule” is very important.

1family
1family
5 months ago

We think being one body in Christ means that all people should be treated evenly and fairly. We feel one way to do this is to work together to prevent unkind treatment of others.

oswandel
oswandel
5 months ago

we can make the world a better, more loving place by treating others kindly and with respect.

Nicholas14
Nicholas14
5 months ago

The Gulban family believes to love your neighbor as ourselves means to treat everyone you met with respect, dignity, and love. The Golden Rule is something we should follow for our whole lives.

burdickcrew
burdickcrew
5 months ago

Our family chose to answer the question regarding how to make the world a better more loving place. Some responses we came up with are, caring for each other, helping each other, and being kind.

HamiltonFamily
HamiltonFamily
5 months ago

In response to “What do you know about the Civil Rights Movement?” question, we all discussed as a family, the history of slavery, racial-slavery specifically. Our first grader really didn’t know who Dr. King was or about the civil rights movement at all. So we all shared what we knew and we looked up information about Dr. King.
We then talked about the next question–how to make the world a better place. We all would like to try serving at a soup kitchen sometime. We talked about leaving messages of positivity to brighten others’ days.

BlushFamily
BlushFamily
5 months ago

To make the world a better place, we discussed how we can use our time, talents, and treasure. And how even “small” acts can make a big difference (ask a friend to play with you, smile at someone, offer a compliment, pay for the meal of the stranger in line behind you).

turel
turel
3 months ago
Reply to  BlushFamily

I love this! It’s the little acts that truly make a big difference. The other day, the person in front of us paid for our Tim Horton’s order and the kids thought it was the coolest thing. We then paid for the car behind us and they both talked about it a week later how we did a nice thing. My daughter kept saying that her “bucket” was filled and that we filled the “bucket” of the car behind us.

BlanckFamily
BlanckFamily
5 months ago

We chose the second question, loving your neighbor as yourself. We said we treat people in a loving, respectful, and welcoming way regardless of who they are or what they think. Even if they have different opinions from us, we will still appreciate them. Some examples of that can be simply smiling at them and saying hello. Another one could be helping others who may need our help.

BittyAngell
BittyAngell
5 months ago

I chose the question What do you think being one body in Christ means. I think it means that you are in Christ and that you have become part of Christ.

nizolfamilygmailcom
nizolfamilygmailcom
5 months ago

We believe that there should not be any racism because racism hurts people. God commands us to love our neighbor, but racism spreads hate, not love. When someone is being racist we could stand up for the person being targeted.
We were really moved by this lesson, and we appreciated all the good conversation around how treating others in the world as Christ would is one way to overcome racism.

Last edited 5 months ago by nizolfamilygmailcom
amandanorton
amandanorton
5 months ago

Treat your neighbor as yourself. I believe this means to treat and love your neighbors as the way you would want them to treat you.

LaCombefamily
LaCombefamily
5 months ago

As Catholics, What can we do to make the world a better, more loving place? 1. By helping the elderly and those that can’t help themselves 2. to obey the golden rule. 3. and to support things that will better the lives of everyone.

Simonfamily
Simonfamily
4 months ago

we think being one body in christ means that we all equal in gods eyes because he created us all like him.

Lori Buza Smith
Lori Buza Smith
4 months ago

What does love your neighbor as you love your self mean? Mike says it means to be at peace with yourself and your neighbors. Treat them as you want to be treated.

Kailyn0927
Kailyn0927
4 months ago

This is a great lesson all about the history of what god wanted us to do.

turel
turel
3 months ago

To our family, to love your neighbor as ourselves is to treat everyone you meet with kindness, respect and to have empathy for others. This world would be a much better place if everyone felt this way! It all starts in the home! We should always treat others how we would want to be treated. We are teaching our children that you don’t have to like everyone, you don’t have to agree with everyone, but you should always treat people with kindness, respect and compassion, as everyone is facing some sort of battle that you know nothing about. God wants us to be kind, loving and compassionate towards one another!

huttoco
huttoco
3 months ago

Hello! Loved the lesson. We believe that treating everyone how you would want to be treated is a very important rule.

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