SAMUELS: All are called to share their gifts of culture for evangelization

May 14, 2024

“Reclaim our roots and shoulder our responsibility. Proclaim our faith and take an active part in building up the Church that is ever ancient and ever new with its multicultural identity,” states the Pastoral Letter: “What We Have Seen and Heard.”  

Forty years ago, the U.S. bishops acknowledged that faith and culture play an important role in the evangelization mandate of the Church. As an African American Catholic priest and pastor, I must acknowledge that my own unique cultural background brings another layer to the experience of evangelization in the Church. “What We Have Seen and Heard” acknowledges the importance of cultural heritage.  

On Sept. 9, 1984, the then 10 African American bishops of the U.S. published the document “What We Have Seen and Heard.”  This pastoral document has served as a witness and mandate to the Church community. The bishops sought to explain that the work of evangelization is both a call and a response; it is not only preaching but witnessing.   
On this 40th anniversary of the pastoral letter, we are called to celebrate the importance of this document because this was the first special call to the African American community to use their unique talents, skills and culture in the Church to evangelize the people of God.   

The Bishop of Memphis, Bishop Terry Steib, one of the original authors of the pastoral letter, stated at the National Black Catholic Congress, “We are called to rediscover this document, to help us move forward in using our gifts of culture for evangelization.”   

The bishops in the document stated: “Evangelization is both a call and response. Evangelization means not only preaching but witnessing; not only conversation but renewal; not only entry into a community but the building up of the community; not only hearing the Word but sharing it.”  

The pastoral letter calls us all to use the shared gifts rooted in our cultural heritage. The bishops call the community to use gifts of our Black culture and faith and the gift of our Blackness informed by faith to build up the Church.   

The pastoral letter mandates that we, as evangelizers, are called to use our gift of Scripture. Even when our ancestors were forbidden to read at one time, our ancestors used the Scriptures to continue to know that God takes care of His people. Scripture was always part of our roots, and the good news of the Gospel was heard and gave hope amid despair, and the clarion calls to fight for freedom.   

The document goes to state: “If the message of evangelization is the good news about Jesus, then we must react with joy. Such is the gift that Jesus passed on to us.”  
Our cultural gifts, our spirituality and our authentic faith all go to evangelizing the Church. Now is the time to know that our rich culture within the Catholic Church elevates our joy of the Gospel. May my joy be yours and may your joy be complete.   

The Pastoral Letter “What We Have Seen and Heard” can be found on the USCCB website. †

Father Reginald Samuels is the vicar for Catholics of African Descent and pastor of St. Hyacinth Catholic Church in Deer Park.

(OSV News photo)