October 28, 2022

Words of Archbishop Thompson and Father Charles Smith inspire at National Black Catholic Men’s Conference

Priests from across the country concelebrate with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson on Oct. 15 in St. Rita Church in Indianapolis during the closing Mass of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Priests from across the country concelebrate with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson on Oct. 15 in St. Rita Church in Indianapolis during the closing Mass of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

For three-and-a-half hours, joy, music and shouts of affirmation filled St. Rita Church in Indianapolis on Oct. 15 before and during the closing Mass of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference, held in Indianapolis on Oct. 13-16.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson offered a conference keynote address before the Mass, and Divine Word Father Charles Smith—co-founder of the conference—offered the homily during the Mass.

“It was a godsend,” Kerry Conwell, president of the St. Rita parish council, said of the evening. “You could just tell that the Holy Spirit had descended upon us here at the church today, and it was so wonderful to hear the archbishop speak.

“And then having Father Charles do the homily—it was just like when he was living here” at St. Rita Parish several years ago, he added.

Attended by an estimated 300 Black Catholic men from across the United States, the gathering began with a keynote address by Archbishop Thompson.

‘We are indeed made for more’

“I wanted to be with you this afternoon,” the archbishop told the men gathered in the pews of the historically Black Catholic parish’s church. “It’s wonderful having you here in Indianapolis.”

He lauded them as offering “a beautiful witness” for attending the four-day conference, for “putting that priority [of faith] in your life not only for yourselves, but for the sake of those around, for the greater community.”

The archbishop said he’d contemplated the conference theme “We Were Made for More,” and touched on numerous truths and Church teachings on how to live out that theme.

“Our ultimate identity is rooted in being created in God’s image,” he noted. “We have been made not so much for earthly life, but more importantly for eternal life. … We are loved unconditionally. We must know and appreciate who we are as beloved children of God before we can aspire to realize that we are indeed made for more.”

Archbishop Thompson drew heavily from Church teaching on how to live as being “made for more.” He touched on virtues, gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, works of mercy, Catholic social teaching, pastoral letters and more.

The archbishop suggested developing seven good habits “to appreciate who we are, where we come from, and how we are made for more.” The seven habits he listed were praying, reading Scripture, receiving the sacraments, performing acts of charity, caring for family members, minding the company one keeps and being grateful.

In the few minutes remaining before Mass, Archbishop Thompson opened the floor to questions.

In response to a question regarding how to make people in the pews more attentive to racism, he mentioned the U.S. bishops’ 2018 document, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—A Pastoral Letter Against Racism.”

“I don’t like documents that just sit on shelves and gather dust,” the archbishop noted. “Maybe in your parishes, in prayer groups or small faith communities, take that document and read it together and discuss it. Maybe that’s a way to develop some outcomes from that document.”

Another person asked Archbishop Thompson if he felt “the witness of the bishops reflect the teachings of the Church as revealed in the document” on racism.

“I think we’ve got to be careful about too many generalities when you say ‘the bishops,’ ” he cautioned. “But I can speak for myself. Can I do a better job? Yes. Do I think any bishop is doing something contrary to that document? Not that I’m not aware of. … I don’t know one bishop who’d say, ‘I couldn’t have done better.’ ”

He also noted the importance for the bishops and all Catholics to examine their conscience regarding racial discrimination, to explore “where we have failed,” and for a “genuine conversion of heart” in respecting the dignity of all people.

‘Men with a powerful will to do God’s will’

Numerous priests from dioceses around the country concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop Thompson. But Father Charles—co-founder of the Indianapolis-based Bowman-Francis Ministry that began the national conference in 2004— offered a fiery homily challenging the men at the liturgy to “man up.”

His homily revolved around the question Christ asked in that Sunday’s Gospel: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on Earth” (Lk 18:8)?

“I want to renew the call of men to discipleship,” he said, lamenting the loss of Black men and youths from the Church.

“Jesus’ point in asking the question is certainly not to get us afraid of the future or frightened that he will ambush us unaware,” Father Charles noted. “It’s meant to help you and me, and for us never to take God for granted, never to take our faith for granted.”

He called on the men to “persevere in prayer.”

“One brother was telling me the other night, ‘It’s hard for me. I say my little Hail Mary or two at the beginning or the end of the day, and then I fall asleep.’

“I said, ‘Well, brother, then you better get you some strong coffee!’ ”

On a more serious note, Father Charles observed that “many of us have lost our hearts for the Lord. I’m just telling it like I see it. Men must pray persistently.”

He recalled words he spoke earlier during a conference session that “we’ve got to practice and practice our prayer. … We’ve got to go into training, my brothers, because there’s a spiritual warfare out there in the world. The training ground is to persevere in our prayer, the morning, the noonday, the evening.”

That spiritual warfare, he said, is “against all men, but especially Black men.

“You’ve got to see yourself as a spiritual entity made in the likeness of God, and that you remain in holiness. … That’s what the conference is all about—that you get your act together on the spiritual side of things.”

Father Charles challenged the men to be the husbands and fathers they are called to be.

“Your women are saying, ‘Hey, I just want you to be the real man that God wants you to be. Can you love me? Can you take care of my kids? Can you man up and do what you’re supposed to?’ They need you to say, ‘I’m going to be there to support you.’ ”

Before ending his homily in prayer, Father Charles encouraged the men.

“We got to be men that have a powerful will to do God’s will,” he said. “We got to be strong. We got to keep moving forward. We got to be persistent with serving. We got to be obedient and faithful in our Church.

“I’m talking to all you men—because you were made for more.”

‘Not just coming to say hi’

At a reception after the Mass, Mark Guess, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis who helped coordinate the conference, praised the support the conference received from the archbishop and the archdiocese.

“I appreciate what the archdiocese has done as far as accepting this conference,” he said. “When we said we wanted to come here, the archbishop made time to be available. And not just coming to say hi or saying the Mass and then leaving, but coming beforehand, wanting to speak to us and staying afterward with us to eat. We really appreciate that.

“And I loved having [the conference] in my hometown,” he added.

Guess admitted he was too busy working to enjoy the conference’s many sessions. But he did have one lasting impression: “Being able to see guys that we haven’t seen in two years. I think that was beneficial spiritually to everybody.”

He noted this year’s conference was the first one held in person since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, and that the roughly 300 registrants was “right around the number we expected. We were glad that people felt comfortable enough coming.”

Conwell agreed.

“It was like a family reunion with all the faces you had missed over the two years,” he said. “Bringing everyone back together, rekindling the Holy Spirit—it showed tonight, the reverence that everyone had for the whole Mass.”

(For more information on the Bowman-Francis Ministry and how they serve Black Catholic men, women, young adults and youth, go to bowmanfrancis.org, call 317-800-1621 or e-mail ministry@bowmanfrancis.org.)

Read more of our coverage of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference:

Participants in the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference, held on Oct. 13-16 in Indianapolis, pose with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson after a Mass in St. Rita Church in Indianapolis on Oct. 15. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

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