Young African-American Catholics called to find a friend in Jesus

Members of the Junior Knights and Junior Daughters of Peter Claver provide the music for the Mass that concluded their national convention, held in Kansas City, Missouri, July 5-9. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — “You’ve renewed my faith in the future of the church,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told his young audience at the 22nd biennial national convention of the Junior Knights and Junior Daughters of the Knights of Peter Claver July 9. He was celebrating the concluding Mass of the four-day event here.

The Knights of Peter Claver is the largest African-American Catholic lay organization in the world, and its junior division identifies and encourages leadership among Catholic youth ages 7 through 18.

The Mass was held at the Sheraton Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, and hundreds of young Catholic Junior Knights — and Daughters dressed all in white — crowded the ballroom. Among the attendees were nine Junior Daughters and two Junior Knights from Our Lady & St. Rose Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.

The archbishop opened his homily by commending the young people for being active in the Knights of Peter Claver organization.

Quoting one of the Mass hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” the archbishop said the song expresses one of the most important aspects of our Catholic faith.

“Not only do we believe in a God who has created the entire cosmos,” he said, “but a God who loves us.”

Today’s Gospel, he continued, in which Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden light,” is one of his favorites.

“It has a personal meaning for me [as a bishop],” he said.

That Gospel reminds him that “‘My yoke is easy,’” said the archbishop, “because Jesus carries it with us.

“We’re never alone.”

It was an important message for these young men and women of color who prayed during the petitions for an end to the violence that plagues many of their communities.

The archbishop went on to tell the story of Bishop John Baptiste Miege, the first bishop of the Kansas Territory, who was reluctant to accept the position and take on the responsibility of a bishop.

In a letter to his brother, Bishop Miege wrote: “I can barely take care of my own soul; how can I be responsible for so many others?”

“Every bishop, every pastor, has that same sense sometimes,” said Archbishop Naumann. “But we can do it because we’re not alone.”

But Jesus is not their only ally.

The archbishop told his young congregation how they can rely on the church and its teaching authority as well.

He’s reading a book written by a former atheist, said the archbishop, and the author was in the process of exploring the Christian faith when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. (Because many convention attendees were from Louisiana, they knew well the devastation brought on by Katrina.)

The archbishop recounted the author’s confusion when she heard some Protestants saying Katrina was God’s punishment for New Orleans’ sinful culture — and referenced the Bible as proof.

Other Christians disagreed.

When the author brought the issue to a Catholic chat room, one participant explained that Christians didn’t have the Bible for their first 300 years — and once they had it, most couldn’t read it.

In other words, only the Protestant tradition relies entirely on the Bible. The Catholic Church also relies on the example of the early Christian church — the church that sprang directly from the work of Jesus and the apostles — and the Tradition handed down from the apostles.

So the Bible is not the only authority determining our faith, said the archbishop.

“That’s why we need the church and the magisterium,” he said. “Jesus entrusted his authority to Peter and the other apostles.

“We’re so blessed to have our Catholic faith and to be part of a community that Jesus established.”

Archbishop Naumann went on to commend the young people again for their involvement in the Knights of Peter Claver, and encouraged them to be evangelists for their faith.

At World Youth Day in Poland, he said, Pope Francis told the youth: “If you’re going to follow Jesus, you can’t be a ‘couch potato Christian’ — you have to have your boots on and follow him.”

“So many of your friends you go to school with don’t know Jesus,” concluded Archbishop Naumann. “They won’t know Jesus unless you introduce them.

“Let us give thanks for the gift of our faith and for all who have helped you know him.”

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