By Mary Elsen, The Circuit.
Bishop Fernand Cheri, auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, engaged his audience in song while sharing the importance of walking with the Lord during his visit to Benedictine.
Cheri visited for a few days and gave a lecture titled “I walked and I walked, until I found the Lord” on Sept. 25. He also took the time to give a lecture to a Theology class while on campus.
According to usccb.org, Cheri was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1978 and went on to join the Order of Friars Minor, Sacred Heart Province. He made solemn profession in 1994.
During his lecture, Cheri zoomed in on what a spiritual journey can entail.
“We humans are all unique, unrepeatable creations of God, so finding our way to Him is also unique,” Cheri said.
Cheri explained that the spiritual journey of humans began when God choose to create humans in His image and likeness. By looking to the past, present and future, Cheri pointed out that humans “live a finite journey” while on earth.
“Today is all we have in which to be faithful to God and His call, as we understand it, to serve others,” he said.
During one’s journey on earth, one seeks to answer God’s call – Cheri gave advice on discerning God’s calling.
First, he said prayer is key, but one may have to rely on blind faith at times. Second, one needs to remember that they impact others and the public. Third, one needs to be willing to give everything they have to the spiritual journey – there can be no blocks in following God’s will.
To build on his points, Cheri elaborated on his life as an African American bishop working to bridge culture gaps within the Catholic Church.
“Today, I find myself perplexed because hostility has overwhelmed the expectation of hospitality that I hoped would be the trademark of the black Catholic community and the wider Catholic Church,” he said. “Racism is alive and well in our society and the Church.”
Cheri has noticed the distinct divide in cultures today.
“One thing that can hinder us as a Church, is the tendency to confuse unity with uniformity.”
Cheri went on to illustrate his point saying that using one culture’s type of music at Mass and excluding another’s is wrong as it “deprives our Church of the richness God has made available to us through the evolution of multiple cultures.”
Cheri continued by relating his thoughts about the lack of reception of black music in many church communities.
“There are many other instances in which the value of cultural contributions of black people and other people of color have been questioned or denied when they sought to bring the gifts of themselves into the Catholic Church,” he said.
Cheri touched on Pope Paul XI’s message to the black community of Uganda in 1969. Cheri said that the Pope urged the community to share their “gifts of blackness with the whole Church.”
“[Paul XI] recognized that African Catholics would best serve the Church…precisely by offering the Church their African gifts that were unique.”
“When we minister to others, we owe them nothing less than the best we can be,” Cheri said. “The best I can be happened to be black.”
Cheri reminded the audience that it is difficult to minister to others – he said it can be difficult to minister to those of one’s own culture.
“Whatever your particular ministry might be, you might experience criticism and opposition from those who you will serve, and that’s when it becomes most painful to [serve],” Cheri said. He added that even Jesus experienced the suffering that comes from being rejected for His own people. “So why should we expect anything different?”
A round of questions ensued as Cheri wrapped up.
A student inquired how the Church could remain unified through the introduction of new traditions.
“The Catholic Church has to realize that it offers society something that no other church does…We’re universal,” Cheri said. Catholics can recognize the Mass wherever they go. “Why can’t we equally receive and accept that expression, in this country, that comes from different cultures and ways of life?”
He continued by saying that members of the Catholic Church have a charge to worship and serve God. To better do so, one needs to accept and work with those who have different cultural practices than they are used to – such as music at Mass.
Another student asked how students could help foster unity among cultural communities within the Church.
Cheri encouraged students to visit dominantly black churches. “We have to expose each other to [other cultures].” He compared the aspects of multi-cultural foods to that of multi-cultural music within churches. “We have to make our Church receptive to everyone.”