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Fr. Josh Johnson: How to bring unity to a divided Church

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 07/17/22

Prayer, fasting, and listening well—these are the keys to bringing together a divided Church into the unity of Christ.

If you’re not yet familiar with Fr. Josh Johnson, I’d love to introduce you to this dynamic and inspiring young priest. 

Former pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, Fr. Josh now serves as the Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. 

He is a presenter with Ascension Press, the author of several spiritual books, and the host of a popular podcast, Ask Father Josh

In all that he does, his wise words and caring heart are a balm for the modern Church.

I recently had the chance to listen to some of his best advice, about an issue close to his heart. 

Fr. Josh is one of the nation’s best-known Black Catholic priests. He’s become a leading voice on racial issues. 

He shared some crucial insights on healing the racial divide in the Church in his OSV Talk, Listen, Pray & Fast: Healing the Racial Divide.

“What would it take for us to help make our Church and community look a little more like Heaven?” he asks.

Prayer, fasting, and listening well—these are the keys to bringing together a divided Church into the unity of Christ. 

While prayer and fasting are the most obvious steps for people of faith, the third part, listening well, is just as important. 

To illustrate how transformative it is simply to listen, Fr. Josh shared the story of something Archbishop Alfred Hughes did in the Archdiocese of New Orleans when he became aware that a number of Black Catholics were leaving the Church.

Instead of making an assumption about why they were leaving, Archbishop Hughes invited them to meet with him and share what was going on. 

What he learned was heartbreaking. Fr. Josh said in his talk,

One of these stories he heard over and over again was from Black Catholics who were very active in ministry in the Church, in his archdiocese, who were hurting because there was a country club in his archdiocese that continued to have a practice that said Black people could not be members. And their parish churches, their organizations, their schools, continued to host events at this country club, even after they talked to their pastors and their leaders in their Church and said, “We wish that you would not go there and host events there, because we can’t go, we can’t participate.”

Instead of listening, the local leaders were ignoring this request and continuing to allow this painful exclusion. 

“After they cried out to their leaders in their churches, they went unheard,” Fr. Josh said. “They were tired of being neglected, and that’s why they were walking away.” 

Archbishop Hughes had no idea this was going on, but he listened carefully, and then he took these concerns to prayer. The fruit of his prayer was that he composed with them a pastoral letter against racism that was distributed to every parish in his archdiocese.

It said no Catholic church, no Catholic school, no Catholic hospital, no Catholic organization, no Catholic institution in the Archdiocese of New Orleans can have any event, could host any function, at any place that does not allow diverse membership.

The letter brought about a transformation in the entire archdiocese. 

That country club … began to lose money because people stopped hosting events there, and then they changed their practice. They began to invite Black people to become members of their institution, of their club. This brought about some healing.

You might assume this story happened decades ago, but Fr. Josh was quick to clarify that this didn’t happen back in the 1960s, but in the 2000s—in the 21st century. These issues are not so long ago.

The story is a powerful illustration of the racial divide that can exist, as well as of the listening and prayer that can heal our divisions.

Fr. Josh shares other ways to heal the divide and find unity as a Church in his OSV Talk. His insights can help us bring our communities to “look a little bit more like heaven.”

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