By Deacon Marvin Threatt
(SAN DIEGO) — I have been a deacon in the Catholic Church for nearly 40 years, after successful careers in the Navy and in education. I’m the longest serving African American deacon in the Diocese of San Diego, and one of the founders of the Diocesan Commission for African American Catholics.
There are about 3 million Black Catholics in the United States. In San Diego County, we live all over, though we’re concentrated in urban areas. Many of our community members attend St. Rita’s and Christ the King Parishes, where I serve.
Over the course of 40 years, our people have seen great changes in our Church. There was a time when we were excluded from participating fully in our faith. But through a process of raising awareness about our concerns, of raising our voices, we were heard. I have experienced these changes in our Church and in our relationship with fellow Catholics.
If we had not spoken up as a people, certainly we would not be in the state we are now, where we enjoy mutual inclusivity and participation as equal partners in the Church.
Let me share one example.
In the late seventies, one of the things that we needed as African American Catholics was to have a worship experience that related to our culture and our history. We needed to have a choir, with a paid musician who could work with us.
Because we addressed that concern with then Bishop Leo Maher, we were able to establish the first gospel choir in the Diocese of San Diego. And that led to the establishment of gospel choirs at St. Rita’s and at Christ the King. And those gospel choirs, as we all know, are central to the African American worship experience, regardless of denomination.
At the time, the Catholic Church was coming out of “Vatican II,” years-long council that aimed to modernize the Church after 20 centuries of life. If we had not spoken up about our needs at that critical time, we may not have been able to secure for ourselves a place in our Church where our music, our ministry and our spirituality was appreciated and valued.
Today, our Church faces another critical moment in its history. Just in the United States, an increasing number Catholics is leaving the Church, many before the age of 18. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact. Our community lost many members, and many individuals have not returned to their parishes.
At this crucial time, Pope Francis has launched an initiative that invites all Catholics to listen to one another and to work together to develop a path to renew the Church.
As part of this initiative, called a synod, the diocese is listening to the faithful through an electronic survey it’s currently conducting. The survey, which is completely anonymous, asks individuals to share their joys and disappointments in the Church and their hopes for it. This includes those who no longer practice their faith.
The survey is available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. The deadline to take it is Oct. 31. You can take it here.
The diocese will use the results to develop a plan to better meet the needs of our community and increase their participation at all levels.
It’s more important than ever for African American Catholics to take the survey. Over the past 40 years I have witnessed how meaningful change can happen when our people speak up. Make your voice heard today.