An ongoing conversation

BRIDGEPORT—As the culmination of seven weeks of the well-received webinar series “Conversations About Race” hosted by The Leadership Institute, the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics, last night’s “Conversations About the Conversations” brought about a lot of important discussions.

The two panelists were Janie Nneji a member of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield and Father Reggie Norman, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton and episcopal vicar for Black Catholics in the diocese. “I have been intensely interested in what the Church can do to heal the racial divide,” explained Nneji, who has piloted a study in her parish using Bishop Braxton’s 2015 pastoral letter, along with books and videos in order to facilitate a conversation and work toward healing.

“This is my third or fourth job,” explained Father Reggie of his role as the episcopal vicar for Black Catholics in the diocese, “but it was the one that I find the most passion in.”

Panelists began the webinar discussing highlights of the seven-week series, what moved them, change them and challenged them. Listeners were then invited to ask questions or begin discussions in the chat.

Patrick Donovan, director of The Leadership Institute shared that one of the things that was most eye-opening for him was when Gloria Purvis used the phrase “we can walk and chew gum,” referring to the fact that just because we say that Black lives matter doesn’t mean that white lives don’t and just because we say that racism in a pro-life issue doesn’t mean that we feel any less strongly about other pro-life issues. “I had never thought about it so simply,” shared Donovan.

Nneji shared that she was shocked to hear that some people had never heard it said that racism was a sin, and that racism was a life issue and contrary to the Word of God. “To me it was very important that I am also involved in many pro-life circles and have bemoaned the fact that it is not always as womb to tomb as I would like it to be,” shared Nneji.

Panelists enjoyed how both Chatelain and Villalobos discussed how to have a conversation and how it is important to listen to others’ stories when beginning to engage with others on these difficult topics and to find common ground. “I think that was an effective tool in having a conversation,” said Nneji.

“I thought the series was excellent. As a Black Catholic, having gone back and read some of the Bishop’s pastoral statements and my disappointment is that the Church has gone to battle over many different issues and I don’t think they have raised the racism issue up to the level of concern and dedication of resources to which they should,” shared Nneji. “But I think having the conversations was a good start,” she said.

Father Reggie said that Armando Cervantes’ conversation on multicultural voices allowed listeners to see the issue of racism as a bigger picture, and to recognize other cultures that are struggling as well.

“As a Black man I’m tired of talking about this. I talk about this all day every day and sometimes it’s very frustrating because no matter how much you talk some people are just not going to get it,” explained Father Reggie, sharing that Gloria Purvis’ discussion gave him a new perspective and approach and inspired him to speak up in areas where he might not have before.

Father Reggie encouraged listeners to work with their pastors and show them the way that they wish to learn more about certain issues. “You are the Church, if you can get some people together and do it that is a start,” he said.

Panelists discussed how important it is to make sure that parishioners of color feel welcome enough to continue coming to church. “The reality is that none of us own the Church, it’s God’s Church we are just temporary stewards of it and we should be welcoming and let anyone in who wants to celebrate God. We contradict ourselves when we say our doors are open but want to limit who comes through.”

“We need to make sure our parishes are places of acceptance and healing and preaching and teaching and all of those things,” said Donovan.

“The Church is not a sanctuary for Saints it is a hospital for sinners,” shared Father Reggie, explaining that that’s something we all need to work on recognizing as a Church.

Panelists discussed that the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism is currently working on developing anti-racism training for diocesan staff as well as within the parishes, as well as plans for Black Catholic History Month in November.

(To watch all the webinars from the Conversations About Race series and for a growing list of resources visit