By Brianna-Paige Alegbeleye
Who am I? Well, to answer this I have three identifiers: I am Black, a woman, and Catholic. I have understood and valued the first two identifiers, my race and gender, since before I can remember. My parents have raised me to be proud of the fact that I am Nigerian, and on top of that, to be proud of the fact that I’m a woman. In almost all facets of my life, I felt the idea of a strong, Black woman being promoted … all facets except my faith.
The Church is said to be universal, yet the demographics of the parishes I’ve been raised in do not reflect this. Growing up, I attended a predominantly white, Catholic elementary school. From there, I went to a predominantly white, Catholic, all-girls high school. When I go home, my family and I go to a parish where the presider is a white man, and the congregation is predominantly white. The disconnect between my heritage and Catholicism has made my relationship with my faith odd. In elementary school, I would sit in religion classes, looking at textbook pictures depicting Jesus Christ as a white man who came to save. Afterwards, I would sit in history classes, looking at more pictures of more white men, only these men came to enslave, not to save. For a long time, this disconnect caused me to just go through the motions of my faith. I didn’t like the idea of having to follow rules made by a white man, when so many other white men throughout history made rules that reduced people who looked like me to less than a human being.
If it weren’t for my parents, I doubt I would’ve ever come to appreciate the faith tradition in which I was raised. My parents taught, and continue to teach me, that although there are some base things that go into practicing Catholicism, my faith is my own. My parents don’t just live out their faith by saying prayers, going to Mass, and calling it a day. Both live out their faith every second of every day through their interactions with themselves and others. Sure, not every day is perfect, and because of this they make mistakes. But truly living out your faith doesn’t involve perfection. What my parents show me is that a faith tradition isn’t meant to dictate who you are to be. Rather, it gives you a set of values that offer you guidance.
I practice Catholicism, despite its unsavory history because I can see its values present in other passions of mine. I share my faith with others because it offers me hope and acceptance. Although I sit in congregations in which I am in the minority, I no longer feel out of place because I know that I have a place and purpose there. I can use the messages from the readings and the Gospel in parts of my life that I did not connect with my faith in the past. I know who I am, and I know that being Black, a woman, and Catholic presents challenges, but also a unique form of power.