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Registration open for Our Mother of Africa Chapel silver jubilee

The nation's largest Black Catholic monument will celebrate 25 years next month with a Mass and celebration in Washington, DC.

Ed Dwight's Black Madonna and Child in the Our Mother of Africa Chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. (Nate Tinner-Williams)

WASHINGTON — The 25th-anniversary celebration for the Our Mother of Africa Chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is scheduled for next month in DC, and is expected to bring Catholics from around the country to the nation’s largest Black Catholic monument.

Scheduled for Saturday, September 17, the event is being sponsored by the National Black Catholic Congress, which organized fundraising and construction of the chapel via its founding director, Bishop Emeritus John Ricard, SSJ of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

It was dedicated during the quinquennial NBCC national gathering in August 1997, held in Baltimore under the theme “What we have seen and heard—we proclaim and celebrate.” Among its main features is a life-size bronze Black Madonna and Child designed by African-American Catholic sculptor Ed Dwight, across from his bas relief depicting a montage of US Black history.

The chapel also contains an Afrocentric crucifix designed in part by Tanzanian artist Juvenal Kaliki using a traditional Entebene carving ritual, and supporting columns representing the seven principles of the Nguzo Saba.

“The Chapel was presented by the African American community as a gift to the national shrine and to the Catholic community,” reads a description from St Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, Maryland, where NBCC president Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell Jr. of Washington serves as pastor.

“[It] expresses the values, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and history of African-American Catholic people.”

This year’s anniversary pilgrimage had originally been scheduled to take place during the National Black Catholic Congress itself, but the larger event was delayed to 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festivities next month will begin at 11am ET with a tour of the basilica—the largest church building in North America, and home to the world's largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art.

The pilgrimage’s official program will begin in the facility’s Great Upper Church at 1pm, followed by the Rosary and a Mass at 2pm celebrated by Bishop Campbell. The event will culminate with a procession downstairs to Our Mother of Africa Chapel, the 60th and final cultural shrine comprising the basilica’s lower level.

Lunch will be provided for all attendees who register online on Eventbrite by September 1. Special RSVP categories are available for groups arriving by bus, as well as for visiting clergy. Those in the latter group who plan to participate in the Mass must mail a letter of suitability to the basilica liturgy director Fr Ismael Ayala no later than September 3.

The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, the nation’s largest Black Catholic organization, has also put out a call for members planning to attend the event in KPC regalia. They are asked to register online here no later than Monday, August 29 for reserved seating.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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