Arlene Edmonds, Tribune Correspondent January 20, 2017
“A Dream in Black and White: Growing in Understanding as Catholics” drew a diverse, standing-room-only crowd to the St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Lafayette Hill on Monday evening to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was the 34th annual Archdiocese gathering to the civil rights icon on his birthday, and marked the first time the event was held in a predominantly white Catholic suburban congregation. About half the audience were African Americans as at least three busloads of parishioners came from churches such as St. Raymond of Penafort in Mount Airy, St. Athanasius Catholic community in West Oak Lane and St. Barbara Church in West Philadelphia.
On the program was Deacon Bill Bradley, the Director of the Office for Black Catholics, along with African-American priests, the Rev. Rayford Emmons and Rev. Stephen Thorne.
The remarks that drew the loudest standing ovation were those of James Francis Moses, a first-year seminarian at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood and a parishioner at the St. Martin de Porres Church in North Philadelphia. It was his experiences on the Main Line campus that was at the heart of his testimony.
“I was walking on the grounds reflecting and praying,” Moses said. “The campus guard came in detail and physically restrained me before I realized what happened. I was taking a little time with Jesus.”
Moses explained that someone reported seeing “a suspicious Black man on campus.” The person who called security “reported feeling uncomfortable when a Black man walked by,” he said, leading him to ask whether Black lives mattered. Besides Moses, the two other speakers during the reflections portion were Marq Temple and Ann Menna. Temple, a member of St. Athanasius and Executive Director of Concerned Black Men, spoke about the bias he saw as Director of the Juvenile Justice Services Center.
Menna, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown, shared a personal anecdote where she had to confront her own racial bias. She was shopping with her young children, Menna said, when she noticed that a young African-American male was staring at her, followed her down the aisle and then stood in front of her. During that time, she was terrified and wanted to flee or call security. Then Menna said the person spoke, “He said [to] me, ‘Didn’t you teach at Holy Child? It’s Alphonso. I knew who he was and recognized him right away. This left me in a fog and I had to question myself whether I would have reacted that way if he were white.”
The Rev. Christopher M. Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond’s, served as the master of ceremonies. He said though there was a diverse crowd from across the Philadelphia Archdiocese there was a problem. “I see all the Blacks sitting with Blacks and the whites sitting with whites,” he explained.
So, he encouraged the crowd to get out of their seats and change seats so that all the pews were integrated, which later became a topic during evening discussions.
One white woman from a Philadelphia parish readily acknowledged that she had to check her own racist attitudes after hearing the stories from those on the stage.
“Sometimes you can really believe that you are not racist,” she said. “Then something happens and you realize that it is there. Sometimes it is so unconscious. So, this is a really great program to help us to check ourselves.”