Youth Bible tailored to interests of black Catholics
St. Mary’s Press, in collaboration with the National Black Catholic Congress, has produced the first Catholic Bible designed from the African-American perspective.
Released last month, “The African American Catholic Youth Bible” offers Scripture-related commentaries written through the prism of the black Catholic experience, featuring articles on the lives of holy men and women of color and sections exploring the milestones of African-American Catholic history.
“It allows (black) youth to see themselves in the pages of salvation history,” said Dr. Ansel Augustine, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and one of the youth Bible’s 16 contributing writers. Redemptorist Father Maurice Nutt, director of Xavier’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, also is among the contributors.
“When I was a youth minister at St. Peter Claver it was challenging because we had to tweak whatever resources were out there to make it relevant to black Catholics,” Augustine said. “This Bible has many of the same features as other youth Bibles, but the articles and images are from the black Catholic perspective.”
Scripture linked to life
Concise and youth-friendly articles, prompted by Scripture, are woven throughout every biblical book.
Articles grouped under the heading “Black, Catholic and Faithful” explore the contributions of African and African-American figures and culture. For example, an article located inside the Book of Psalms notes the musical quality of this book before telling the story of the 1987 hymnal “Lead Me, Guide Me,” created by the National Black Catholic Caucus and Xavier University as a celebration of “the African-American genius in song and as a contribution to Catholic unity.”
Christ’s exhortation in St. Luke’s Gospel to “love your enemies” is the basis of an article on New Orleans’ own Ruby Bridges, the first African American to desegregate an all-white school and who prayed for those who taunted her.
“Do we pray for those who hurt us?” the article writer asks its young readers. “Ruby practiced what Jesus preached.”
Articles under the heading “Be About It!” apply biblical messages to real-life situations young African Americans might be grappling with. For example, an article inside the Book of Genesis observes that that book’s Chapter 10 is about the unity of the human race, recounting the story of how the whole world descended from Noah and then branched out into the various nations after the Great Flood.
“Anthropologists have reached the same conclusion regarding the unity and interconnectedness of the human race,” the article notes. “They agree that Africa was the first home of humans, from which all migrated. What does that mean for you? It means that there is nothing like ‘race’ in the way people often think of it.”
Treasury of information
Study aids located in the back of the 1,994-page youth Bible include a history of African-American Catholics, from the 1565 arrival of the first Spanish settlers to St. Augustine, Florida – a migration that included “black men and women, both free and slave” – to the proliferation of black Catholic religious communities in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the 2001 appointment of Bishop Wilton Gregory as the first African-American president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Other recent milestones include the participation of black and white clergy and religious in the Selma, Alabama, march in support of the Voting Rights Act, and the establishment of individual associations for black clergy, black seminarians and black sisters in the watershed year of 1968.
Black Catholic history moments with Louisiana connections include the establishment of the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842 by New Orleans-born Venerable Henriette Delille; Xavier’s founding in 1915 as the nation’s first and only historically black Catholic university; and the 1980 establishment of Xavier’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies.
Art to engage black youth
One of the most riveting sections of the new youth Bible celebrates the depictions of people of color in biblical art. These portrayals include a 14th-century painting of the Black Madonna, a painting of the “Black Sacred Heart of Jesus” and the statue of Our Lady of Africa inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Black subjects also appear in paintings of Jesus’ baptism, St. Peter walking on water and Pentecost. The caption beneath the painting “Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch” notes that a person of color was one of the first converts to Christianity, a fact recorded in Acts 8:26-40.
Getting into local hands
“This Bible is not only for African American youth, it’s a gift to the entire church; it’s for anyone who wants to learn more about the contributions of the black Catholic church,” said Dr. Augustine, who successfully applied for a grant from the National Black Catholic Congress to provide a copy of the new resource to the archdiocese’s predominantly African-American parishes and its three traditionally black high schools: St. Augustine, St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory School and St. Mary’s Academy. Also, in honor of the February celebration of Black History Month, the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools presented a copy of the youth Bible to every elementary and high school.
Already a page-turner
Augustine, who contributed the introduction and commentaries for seven books in the new youth Bible – Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Luke, 2 Peter and Revelation – said that while it is still too early to gauge local reaction to the new youth Bible, he predicts it will be a hit.
“I have already seen (young African Americans) flipping through it instead of saying, ‘I’ll look at this later,’” Dr. Augustine said. “They’re opening it up and they’re seeing articles that relate to them and images that look like them.”
“The African American Catholic Youth Bible” is available in both paperback ($28) and hardcover ($36) formats. It is not yet in local bookstores. To order, visit the St. Mary’s Press website at www.smp.org.