Scholar recounts black Catholics' rich history worldwide

Black Catholics across the globe have dedicated their talents and their lives to their faith since earliest days of the Church, a Catholic author and scholar has said.

“Black Catholicism is not something new. From the very first century, people of color have been involved in the universal Church,” Dr. Camille Brown, author of the 2008 book “African Saints, African Stories,” told EWTN News.

“They have embraced the Universal Church with courage and with love of the Lord, just like everyone else.”

To me, the history of black Catholics is very inspiring. A few additional points that that article didn’t cover: the Church’s opposition to the black slave trade goes back to the time when Spain and Portugal discovered the Canary Islands in the 1400s, and started enslaving the natives there. The Church quickly stood up against it, and in 1435 Pope Eugene IV published Sicut Dudum, which commanded: “All and each of the faithful of each sex, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, [must] restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of the Canary Islands…who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money…"

Some people say that the Catholic Church is responsible for initiating the system of racial slavery that was such a burden from 1400-1850, but, as Rodney Stark argues in his book “The Victory of Reason,” in addition to the strong stand taken by Pope Eugene IV, “Pope Pius II (1458 to 1464) and Pope Sixtus IV (1471 to 1484) followed with additional bulls condemning enslavement of the Canary Islanders, which, obviously, had continued. What this episode displays is the weakness of papal authority at this time, not the indifference of the Church to the sin of slavery…”

Spain and Portugal continued to enslave the West Africans, but the Church showed that she believed in their equality by ordaining them and establishing a Church in West Africa. In 1491, King Afonso the Good of the Kongo was converted to the Catholic faith and started the process of establishing the black Church. In 1518, Pope Leo X consecrated the king’s son, Henrique, Titular Bishop of Utica. Bishop Henrique was the first native bishop of West Africa. But as Spain and Portugal continued to enslave these populations, the Church there crumbled, and it has been hard to restore it since.

I think that piece of history is also significant in the discussion of the black Catholic Church.

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