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Black Catholics tell pope it takes more than words to tackle racist legacy By Reuters

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© Reuters. A group of people shows posters in front of the Parque Tejo stage for the XXXVII World Youth Day, in Lisbon, Portugal August 5, 2023. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) – Some Black worshippers feel under-represented in the Catholic Church and that it needs to do more to overcome its legacy of racism, they said, after Pope Francis spent recent days telling crowds in Lisbon the Church has room for everyone.

Francis, who has been working to promote inclusivity since the start of his papacy, arrived on Aug. 2 in Lisbon to attend the world’s largest gathering of young Catholics from Aug. 1-6.

“When the pope said (the Church was for) ‘everyone, everyone, everyone’ …we felt the impact… but we want more than words,” said Adani, a Black transgender woman from Brazil who crossed the Atlantic to attend.

The 27-year-old was part of a group representing Afro-Brazilians, descendants of enslaved Africans – known as quilombolas in the South American nation – and indigenous people that joined hundreds of thousands of Catholics from all over the world in the Portuguese capital.

Afro-descendant Tamara Braga, 29, was born in one of Rio de Janeiro’s slums and said it was important for her group to bring diversity to what she described as a predominantly white event.

Afro-Brazilians make up more than half of the country’s population, yet they are under-represented in various sectors. The Church is no exception, said 29-year-old Braga, who linked the issue to racism rooted in slavery and colonialism.

Francis has selected cardinals from Asia and Africa and given less importance than his predecessor to countries in Europe, increasing the possibility his successor will share his vision of a more progressive, inclusive Church.

“The Church has great power to turn the tables,” said Braga, who at Saturday’s evening vigil with Francis wore a T-shirt saying “Jesus was Black”.

Some also placed the focus on the Church’s role in slavery.

From the 15th to the 19th century, at least 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly transported by European ships and merchants and sold into slavery.

Those who survived the voyage ended up toiling on plantations in the Americas, mostly in Brazil and the Caribbean.

Earlier this year, the Vatican acknowledged papal documents from the 15th century were used by colonial powers to give legitimacy to their actions, which included slavery.

“Our ancestors built these spaces and today we are a minority here,” said Vanessa Pitangui, who held a Black Lives Matter sign. “This is a form of resistance and a way of fighting.”

She said it was crucial to get clergy involved in the fight against racism so Black people everywhere can feel like they belong in the Church, adding: “We deserve nothing less.”

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