Pope Francis continues to inspire and challenge us all as people of varying faiths around the world. He continues to witness to us how we are called to minister to those on the “peripheries” of society. Those that are often ignored, unseen, or forgotten by society—and sometimes even by our Church.
After I started ministry over 20 years ago at my home parish, St. Peter Claver in New Orleans, I would receive the random call (or even engage in community conversations) centered around how we as a Church only minister to those that fit a certain “Catholic image,” and tend to judge and ignore those that do not fit into this image.
This has always been the work I have done with our Black Catholic communities around the country, specifically with our youth and young adults who continue to try and figure out where they fit into the Church—and with our Church, which is trying to figure out where to include them in an authentic way.
One of my ministry colleagues and I used to talk about this ongoing tension in our Black Catholic community, and would use this question for our Catholic parishes and institutions: “Are we fishers of men, or are we just keepers of the aquarium?”
Do we, as followers of Christ get out of our “boats” (comfort zones) and connect with our brothers and sisters that may not look, act, speak, or have as much money as us, or do we just maintain the status quo? Would we be welcoming if the “lost sheep” actually attended our Masses or church events? Are we challenging the faithful to go out into the community and share God’s love or are we just making sure we, and those we know, are made to feel comfortable?
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): building and maintaining our community—solving problems together.
We must remember that we are called to share, to rejoice, and to support our brothers and sisters that are most at risk. As Black Catholics, our ancestors and elders sacrificed much for us to be here, and we are called to do the same for our community as well.
We must continue to do what we can to build a better world for the next generation(s). We must figure out new ways to empower our youth and young adults to take leadership roles in the Church. How are we equipping them to be evangelizers of their peers?
This is why I joined the team at Vagabond Missions.
VM works to create safe spaces for the most at-risk youth in our communities. They go where many of our churches are afraid to go, and they connect with those that sometimes are ignored by our other institutions. The overall goal is to encounter these youths where they are, while empowering them to see the gift that they have as God’s creations.
It is not easy work. It is work that needs funding (housing, youth centers, transportation, food, etc). All this is used so that we can be the “fishers of men (and women)” that we are called to be in a population that so desperately needs it. My personal hope is to raise missionaries that will join us in this work, continuing to use their gifts to create a better society.
Nia (Purpose): work collectively to build communities that will restore the greatness of African people.
It is in this work that we are not only bringing Christ to the peripheries but engaging with the Christ that is already there. We are not saving anyone, but we are saving ourselves through this work.
How can you get involved in the work? Go to vagabondmissions.com, see where there is a mission, and see if you can volunteer—or reach out to them to see if you can start a mission in your area or diocese.
For me specifically, I am writing this article to raise funds for the work in New Orleans. To donate, please visit VM’s donate page. If you are connected with a religious or secular organization that would be interested in supporting this work, please connect them with us.
In Matthew 9:37, Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.” There is much work to be done with our youth. I am regularly sickened by watching the violence, attacks, hopelessness that surrounds and all too often consumes them. We continue to see this in our neighborhoods and on via our local news channels.
I am tired of hearing the complaints, even from myself, and feeling helpless in trying to address the problem. Vagabond Missions has offered me an opportunity to make an impact with this population in my own community.
I invite you to join me in sharing our God-given gifts, whether financial or spiritual, as we go out and “fish” for souls.
Dr. Ansel Augustine is the New Orleans Area Director for Vagabond Missions. He is also on the Faculty of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana and has served on the board of directors for the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA) and the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.