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 | By DeKarlos Blackmon and Kanobia Russell-Blackmon

Black apostolate encouraged to thrive

Black Catholics from across the U.S. came together last July for a historic quinquennial gathering of the Black apostolate and those who minister among them. The gathering, sponsored by National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC) and hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington, brought about 3,000 Catholics from over 80 dioceses across the country, including our own Diocese of Austin.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington — the first and only Black American cardinal — welcomed the faithful to what he called “a family reunion.” Expressing the benefits of the congress and how wonderful it was to be together to praise God and to fellowship among each other, Cardinal Gregory said, “It is about having this dedicated time to listen and to share with one another as we thank and praise God for his innumerable blessings, grace and mercy.” 

The theme, “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive,” was inspired from the Book of Habakkuk, in which God instructs the prophet to write down what God has envisioned for his people. Cardinal Gregory asked participants to reflect on the “vision we have for our homes, our communities, our parishes and our church.” The cardinal explained, “We write our vision to thrive with each act of love.” 

Cardinal Gregory highlighted the six courageous Black American candidates for sainthood — Venerable Mother Mary Virginia Lange, Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, Venerable Henriette Delille, Servant of God Julia Greeley, and Venerable Pierre Toussaint — urging the participants to look to them for guidance and hope. During this moment of Eucharistic Revival in the U.S. church, the cardinal stressed the importance of the Black apostolate keeping the Eucharist as its foundation.

The purpose of the quinquennial Congress was for Catholics to deepen their relationships with Christ and to express Gospel witness within their respective communities. The Austin diocesan delegation included about 30 people. Gene Anthony (Trey) Phillips III, a teenager from Holy Cross Parish in Austin, participated in the Youth Track Committee, which met regularly to plan the NBCC youth activities with leaders from around the nation. He also facilitated a session with Cardinal Gregory and Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis. His poise and delivery authentically expressed how young people have such an intense fire burning in their hearts for Jesus Christ. 

The Congress concluded with the inspiring words of Bishop Emeritus John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee. “The Holy Spirit will empower us to do wonderful things” like the six U.S. Black Catholics being considered for sainthood, he said. “Don’t let the fire go out … You’ve got to poke the flame and stir it up and serve your parish.”

Since returning from Congress, participants are putting what they have learned into action. Inspired by the many sessions on ministry, youth and evangelization, many have resolved to participate more fully in the mission and work of the church. All are invited to A Day of Reflection Concerning the Black Apostolate Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Holy Cross Parish in Austin. Bishop Joe Vásquez and DeKarlos Blackmon will explore how encounters of faith can shape our respective relationships with the Lord and how to better live in communion as the mystical body of Christ.

For more information

about Black Ministry, visit or contact DeKarlos Blackmon at (512) 949-2471.

Phillips takes his faith to the next level

Trey Phillips, a 17-year-old parishioner of Holy Cross Parish in Austin, participated in the youth track at the National Black Catholic Congress and facilitated a session with Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington and Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis.

“I learned more about my faith and expanded my knowledge of my faith while making new connections and friendships with people from around the country. It was also a true blessing,” he said.

As an active teenager involved in school activities and sports, Phillips said he does not have a lot of time to reflect on the many blessings in his life. However, he realized that needed to change as he participated in the congress.

“This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the National Black Congress reminds me that I need to reflect more and ask for support from my parents and other adults when debating my next steps,” he said.

Currently, Phillips is very active in his parish. He is the local president of the Junior Knights of the Knights of Peter Claver and he serves as the Junior Texas State President of the Knights of Peter Claver. He is also active in his parish youth group and is an altar server, hospitality minister and lector.

“Being active in church events … and participating in community service … are ways for me to talk about my faith and show it through my actions,” he said.

DeKarlos Blackmon is the Secretariat Director of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin. Kanobia Russell-Blackmon is the director of Communications for the Diocese of Pensacola and Tallahassee.