Community Voices

Miami Archdiocese celebrates Black Catholic History Month

Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami, shows an African-American-themed Bible to a customer.
Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami, shows an African-American-themed Bible to a customer.

Annual celebrations and observances recognize special events and can expand the knowledge of cultures and religions that are different from our own. November as Black Catholic History may be an example.

According to The Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski, Archbishop of Miami, ”the annual celebration of Black Catholic History Month, organized locally by the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, is a part of a continuing effort of the Catholic Church in the United States to raise awareness and to demonstrate appreciation for the contributions of Black Catholics to the life of faith in our Church, in our nation, and in the Archdioceses of Miami.”

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Dorothy Jenkins Fields

Miami’s 28th annual celebration began Sunday, Nov. 4, at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale with the Celebration of St. Martin de Porres feast day. A Mass will be held 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, at St. James Catholic Church, 540 NW 132nd St., North Miami.

The “St. Martin de Porres Awards for Excellence” will be presented at a luncheon noon Saturday, Nov. 17, at Stadium Hotel, 21485 NW 27th Ave., Miami Gardens. For ticket information, call 305-762-1120 or email blackcatholicministry@theadom.org.

The 2018 honorees:

  • Jimmie Knowles, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Miami

  • Lona and Jerome Matthews, St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, Miami Gardens

  • Brenda Dawson, St. Katherine Drexel Catholic Church, Weston

  • Roslyn Taylor, Visitation Catholic Church, Miami

  • Vinelia Booz, St. James Catholic Church, North Miami

  • Joseph Blaize, Christ the King Catholic Church, Richmond Heights

  • Douglas Smalls, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

“They have dedicated their lives to service and to be joyful ambassadors for our faith. We celebrate their commitment to our community,” said Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami.

St. Martin de Porres, an Afro-Peruvian who was the son of a black slave and a Spanish official, was born Dec. 9, 1579, and died Nov. 3, 1639, in Lima, Peru.

The African diaspora in Peru started five decades before St. Martin de Porres’ birth. To gain a sense of the time, the article, “A Legacy of Black Labor and Culture,” written by Professor Omar H. Ali, UNC Greensboro and published in ReVistia, Harvard Review of Latin America, highlights the travel of the enslaved from West and Central Africa through the Caribbean and Buenos Aires on the Atlantic to Peru.

”In addition to building much of Lima’s infrastructure, the Africans and their descendants infused their traditions and practices into Peruvian society in the making,” Ali states. “Theirs, however, is a lesser-known story in Latin America, and remains little known even among Peruvians today.”

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From left, 2017 Martin de Porres recipients Lenora Gardner, Charles and Dr. Constance Thornton; and luncheon participants Georgette Sargent and Valeria Jackman. Jim Davis

A mulatto, de Porres may have been bullied because he was of mixed race, white and black ancestry. Nevertheless, over time he became known for his intense spirituality, extreme kindness in caring, comforting the sick, humility and spiritual counseling. Also, he is credited with curing very sick people with miraculous healing powers and establishing a residence for orphans and abandoned children. Although his heroic deeds were recognized at that time, there was a stipulation that no black person could be received to the holy habit or profession of the religious order.

Centuries after his death, the stipulation was removed. He was beatified in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI and admitted into the Dominican Order. In 1962 he was canonized by Pope John XXIII. St. Martin de Porres is the patron saint of mixed-race people, barbers, innkeepers, public health workers and all those seeking interracial harmony.

He continues to be remembered throughout North America, South America, Central America and the islands of the Caribbean. In the United States, there are schools, churches and community service shelters named to honor him. Annually, numerous ministries recognize him with special commemorations.

In 1990, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCC) of the United States voted to establish November as Black Catholic History Month. November was selected because it contains a number of important dates of prominent Catholics of African descent including St Martin de Porres and St. Augustine as well as numerous related issues.

Nov. 1, All Saints Day, is seen by some as an opportunity to review the lives of the hundreds of Saints of African descent in the first 300 years of the Church. Nov. 2, All Souls Day, is a time to remember Africans lost to cruel treatment in the Middle Passage crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Nov. 13, commemorates the birth of St. Augustine in 354. He died Aug. 28, 430. (Aug. 28, now a Feast Day, honors him.)

The Atlanta Black Star reports that over 1,000 cities across Brazil declare Nov. 20, National Black Consciousness Day, the reminder of the death of Zumbi of Palmares in the resistance to slavery in Brazil. There, it is a public holiday. In Salvador, Bahia, the entire month is celebrated as “Black November” with Bahians participating in freedom walks, conferences and other culture activities.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Ph.D., is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History & Research Foundation of South Florida. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.
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