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Baltimore parishes plan letter-writing campaign to Pope Francis in support of African-American saints-to-be

Black Catholic History Month, celebrated each November, is heating up this year with a Vatican-targeting initiative that could ruffle some feathers—and shake up the Roman Calendar.

On Monday, November 1st, three Black parishes in Baltimore will kick off a letter-writing campaign to the Vatican in support of the canonization of the six African Americans on the path to sainthood.

The effort, organized by members of the Josephites’ St Francis Xavier, St Ann, and St Wenceslaus parishes (all three of which share a pastor) and coinciding with the start of Black Catholic History Month, seeks to have Pope Francis fast-track the causes in a similar manner as that of Pope St John Paul II.

“We are asking you to name Pierre Toussaint, Henriette DeLille, Augustus Tolton, Julia Greeley, Mother Mary Lange and Thea Bowman as Catholic saints using your santo subito process,” reads the letter they plan to disseminate at a Mass on Monday—All Saints Day—at St Ann’s.

“To many of us in America, sainthood delayed is sainthood denied.”

Born at various points between 1766 and 1937, none of the six Black Catholics have reached even beatification in that time.

The letter to be signed by supporters.

The reference in the letter to santo subito (“saint now”) concerns the chant uttered by the crowd at the funeral of JPII, who was canonized just 9 years later. While not the name of a formal process, the phrase represents the Vatican’s ability to fast-track sainthood causes under special circumstances.

The letter also makes note of the fact that already 11 White North Americans—including several US citizens—and one Native American have been canonized ahead of any Black American. All have occurred since 1930, and several other Americans have been beatified.

“The process is reaping unfair, uneven results, especially when you realize that the six Black saints have been waiting 714 years totally if you add up the times since each died,” the letter reads.

Ralph Moore Jr., a member of the Social and Racial Justice Committee at St Ann’s, republished a piece this week in The Baltimore Afro-American entitled “Take down the ‘Sainthood for White Americans Only’ sign that exists in the minds and deeds of many Catholic Church officials”, originally put out in the paper in May 2020.

“It is time that Pope Francis does his part to bring more racial integration to the heavenly acknowledgment of sainthood we know of here on earth,” he wrote.

This morning, he joined The Afro’s managing editor Rev. Dorothy Boulware and DC/digital editor Micha Green for a livestreamed discussion on the upcoming campaign, and the need for more Black saints. BCM was also represented in the program.

The All Saints Mass on Monday will be co-led by Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR, urban vicar for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Fr Xavier Edet, SSJ, the parish pastor. Moore says an invite will also be sent to Josephite superior general Bishop John Ricard, SSJ.

The livestreamed and in-person service will begin at 7pm, followed by the installation of permanent icons for each of the six venerated African Americans.

Questions about the campaign can be directed to any of the following individuals:

Delores Moore: 443-535-3388
Ralph Moore: 443-255-5600
Betty Lutz
Mary Sewell:
Tyrone Wooden:
Janiece Jefferson:

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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