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Podcast: Sister Thea Bowman and the importance of Black Catholic spirituality

If you have not yet seen Sister Thea Bowman’s 1989 address to the U.S. bishops, pause whatever you’re doing and go watch it. And for any newly ordained U.S. bishop, it should be required viewing. That’s the conviction of Manuel Williams, C.R., a Resurrectionist priest, the pastor of Resurrection Catholic Church in Montgomery, Ala., and professor of Black Catholic spirituality.

Father Williams joins “The Gloria Purvis Podcast” to celebrate the tour de force who was his friend and mentor, Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., who is now on the path to beatification and canonization. They discuss the importance of a distinctly Black spirituality, including song, preaching, art, worship and prayer in Catholic parishes and communities. Father Williams explains what anti-racist preaching means and why it matters at church.

“We have to acknowledge that the experience of Africanness that our ancestors brought to this country, the experience of the middle passage, the experience of enslavement, the experience of Jim Crow, the experience of the great migration, the experience now of voter oppression and renewed rancid racism—all of that affects the way I prayed to my Jesus,” Father Williams says, “and to deny that is nonsense.”

Gloria Purvis and Father Williams talk about how Black Catholics can sustain themselves spiritually when their local parish does not draw from the cultural richness of the African American experience.

According to Father Williams, it is not the case that white spirituality doesn’t exist or have a home in the church but rather that the default spirituality has been white and has been assumed to be normative for everyone else. Anti-racist preaching and the full inclusion of Black spirituality takes seriously the mystery of the Incarnation, through which, Father Williams says, “every culture, every manifestation, every expression of humanity is honored, is glorified, is affirmed.” Father Williams adds that while the Incarnation affirms every culture, Jesus’ becoming human still takes place “in a concrete place, in a concrete time, in a concrete culture.” And therefore, we celebrate the Black experience as part of the concreteness of the Incarnation.

Gloria and Father Williams also talk about how Black Catholics can sustain themselves spiritually when their local parish does not draw from the cultural richness of the African American experience.

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