BRIDGEPORT—In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, Father Reggie Norman, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton and vicar for the Apostolate of Black Catholics in the Diocese of Bridgeport joined Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and Steve Lee on the Veritas FM podcast Let Me Be Frank.
Father Reggie explained that the Black Apostolate was formed back in the 1960s when a lot of Black Catholics weren’t welcome in the mainstream church—many having to resort to worship in basements.
“One of the great things about Vatican II was that it allowed a lot of Black and African people who came from other cultures and celebrated differently to be able to express those cultural differences while serving God in the Catholic Church,” said Father Reggie.
Father Reggie explained that he sees it as his job to facilitate that. “There are a lot of Black Catholics who don’t necessarily worship at a parish but would like to come together for some feast days like Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Kwanza, Black History Month, and the feast of Pierre Toussaint.” He sees himself and the apostolate as a conduit to reach out to these individuals, as well as those who have left the Church for various reasons.
“Culturally, there are things that affect us as Black Americans who happen to be Catholic that we have to address as well,” said Father Reggie.
The Wilton pastor touched on how he has been working behind the scenes with a group of lawyers to help expunge the records of a lot of Black individuals, especially with the legalization of marijuana. He explained that there are a lot of people who have felonies and other criminal records that would have a better life if they were cleared up.
“But ultimately our job as vicars is the same for all of us.” Father Reggie continued, “It’s to bring people of faith together, to celebrate and to be part of that big Church. It’s not little individual silos, but one big Church that may celebrate differently and look differently, but one God is serving us all.”
Father Reggie described America as a big pot of gumbo, rather than a melting pot. “It takes all different ingredients to make it taste good. They can still stand on their own, but together they make a dynamic gift.”
“I think that’s our other job—to show the non-black Catholics what it is we do and why we do it. And because there is a lot of things that we can offer the Church that they don’t even know exist and the history behind it,” said Father Reggie.
He went on to explain that when he gets down or in a bad mood the first thing he does is put on Gospel music and his mood immediately lifts. “Gospel music has a history all the way back to the slaves,” explained Father Reggie. “That’s how they endured—through that love of music that was soothing the soul and telling you that there’s a better way. And all of the Gospel music, even back then in slavery, led them to a higher belief in God. And God’s plan is in action. Don’t give up hope. And I think that’s why we’ve survived so long in some of the most difficult times, but we’ve never given up hope. And that’s one of the great things I love about the Black community. No matter the adversity, there’s always hope somewhere. We just have to tap into it.”
Father Reggie explained to listeners that there is great diversity within the Black American community. “They label us by our skin and they just put us all together, but the reality of it is when you say Black, you are talking about a really mixed pot.”
As the conversation went on about the treatment of these Black communities in America, Father Reggie touched on how racism diametrically opposed to God, because God said” love one another as I have loved you.” He continued, “Yet we operate here on earth as if we’re separate and there are different things. God loves all of his children.”
Father continued to unpack how the Church is in a hard position “no matter what the Church does, it’s going to hurt someone in someone’s mind because we, as humans, have developed the feeling that if you’re not doing what I want you to do, you’re wrong.”
Father Reggie said that often, we only hear the voices of those on extremely opposite sides and the voices in the middle get silenced. But it is important for us to respect and listen to each other, otherwise, there is no way to move forward.
Father went on to explain that there were many Catholic priests that marched alongside Dr. King, and a lot of social justice legislation came about because of the work of the Church. He cited the fact that in order to make a change, the person in the position of the oppressor has to grant it, and often the Catholic Church would have to step in and pressure the oppressor to do the right thing. Father Reggie lamented that now, the Church is split in so many different directions and is finding it difficult to fight for so many different things at once.
Bishop Caggiano agreed that “we need to speak clearly and we need to speak unequivocally about the sin of racism.”
The bishop and Father Reggie discussed the importance of having a dialogue and being open to new understanding. They continued on to discuss how racism is so ingrained in society that often people don’t even realize that is what is happening.
They discussed how Eurocentric conditioning had an effect on art and culture, which is difficult for people of color who have never seen God portrayed in their image. “One of the beautiful things for me is when I went to Africa, every place I went, Jesus was black. And what you see in some of my Black Catholic churches, if they’re all Black, they have a darker Jesus and the apostles as well,” said Father Reggie.
“You never know what someone’s been through unless you’ve walked in their shoes,” Father Reggie said. He explained that one of the things that he loved about Dr. King was that he always advocated for peace.
The bishop and Father Reggie discussed the talk that FatherReggie was invited to deliver at Sacred Heart University on January 17 on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death.
about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Father Reggie gave an overview of what he was going to touch on in his talk. “I plan to tell people is I love our country. But again, our country has a bad history that it’s never addressed. At some point you have to acknowledge that you’ve hurt people, and if you don’t acknowledge that they can’t be healed.”
Father Reggie said he planned on discussing what Dr. King would say if he was alive today, and what would the world look like? “I also want to end in hope because it is a college campus. I want them to be engaged to peacefully, to make the change and not to settle for anything less.”
“Let Me Be Frank” is a podcast/radio show from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and Veritas Catholic Radio featuring the Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport. Each weekly episode features Bishop Frank’s honest opinions about recent Catholic news, reflections on Sunday’s Gospel, questions from diocesan faithful, and frank discussion of topics of faith and Catholicism. The live version of the radio show broadcasts Wednesdays at noon on WNLK-AM 1350 radio. The podcast is posted shortly after the program concludes. You can subscribe and listen to podcast episodes anywhere you get your podcasts.