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Not to be too much the reductionist, but I often recall, when the issue of race comes up, a scene recounted by my wife, Sally, that occurred during one of those diversity training programs that employers occasionally sponsor. The person leading the session quickly cut to the chase when he asked the mixed-race class: Who in here would rather be treated the way blacks are treated in the United States than the way whites are treated?

No one raised a hand.

We all know in our bones what the law and lofty pronouncements might not admit: Things are not equal. Racism, even after the Civil Rights era and all of the progress since, remains a fundamental evil in this culture and, by extension, in the church. There are reasons why black Catholics have to gather apart from the rest of the church.

Those thoughts occurred as I stopped in at the National Black Catholic Congress held in Chicago last week. Three thousand or so black Catholics -- and organizers said they had to cut off registrations for lack of space or more would have attended -- turned out for the ninth such gathering since 1889, when the first congress was held in Washington. They were held every year or two until 1894 and then not again until 1987. Since then they have been held every five years. My regret is that they are not scheduled more regularly than that. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and one of the 13 black Catholic bishops in the nation, in an informal conversation about the meeting, told me the congress is set to be held every five years and that he sees no change to that schedule in the near future. Robert J. McClory’s coverage of the event begins on Page 12.

Situated at the front of the stage in the main meeting room of the congress at the Hyatt Regency Hotel was the original painting “Jesus of the People” by artist Janet McKenzie of Island Pond, Vt. The image of a black Jesus was the winner of a worldwide art competition, Jesus 2000, sponsored by NCR at the turn of the millennium. The contest, the genius of former editor Michael J. Farrell, generated 1,678 entries from 1,004 artists from 19 countries and six continents. McKenzie’s painting (she personally brought it to the congress in Chicago) was chosen from 10 finalists by Sr. Wendy Beckett, known for her British Broadcasting Corp. art documentaries.

As the war cry from Washington grows louder and President George W. Bush prepares to make the case for an invasion of Iraq, I call special attention to John L. Allen Jr.’s report of the Sant’Egidio conference in Palermo, Italy, last week. The level and intensity of criticism of U.S. policy and motives from other parts of the world, including Vatican figures, should not be lost to the discussion that will occur in coming weeks.

One of the distinctive elements of NCR that you read about repeatedly in our promotional materials is the paper’s commitment to good journalism, to firsthand reporting about events in the church and the wider world that are of importance to thinking Catholics.

I am happy to announce that that commitment is being advanced with the re-opening of an NCR Washington office, staffed by veteran journalist Joe Feuerherd. His name might already be familiar to many NCR readers. Feuerherd accumulated an impressive clip file as Washington bureau chief for NCR in 1988-1991.

In the intervening years, he has served as spokesperson for the Housing Opportunities Commission in Montgomery County, Md., and, for the past four years, has been associate publisher and editorial director for Financial Services Information Group, where he was founding editor of several weekly newsletters dealing with financial matters.

As our Washington correspondent, he will be focusing on church-related issues on Capitol Hill and the White House, on nonprofit associations and interest groups and reporting on the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Feuerherd is available at 301-933-8884 or jfeuerherd@natcath.org

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, September 13, 2002