If you are not black and Catholic, and you work on the diocesan level in leadership positions, the National Black Catholic Congress would like your participation in some of its projects outlined in “A Proven Foundation for Fruitful Ministry, Congress X Plan of Action.” The 14-page document was released in December in follow-up to the 10th National Black Catholic Congress held in Buffalo, N.Y., six months earlier.
Back then hundreds of teens and more than 2,000 adults took part in the three-day gathering. Now they will spend the next five years addressing the goals cited in the action plan for parishes and dioceses that have a shared commitment to evangelization in U.S. black communities.
Inviting church leaders to take part in workshops on diversity, promoting “diversity in hiring by diocesan curia,” utilizing black-owned businesses and advertising job openings in black newspapers were among several congressional goals which focus on Africa, Catholic education, HIV/AIDS, parish life, social justice, spirituality, racism, youth and young adult. (To read the full document, go to www.nbccongress.org.)
“Our contributions to our church and society enrich the lives of people of every ethnicity,” the action plan states. It implies that, for enrichment to happen, some intermingling has to occur.
In a letter introducing the action plan, Bishop John Ricard of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., president of the board of trustees of the National Black Catholic Congress, said chief among the challenges to the church’s evangelization efforts in black communities are:
* The declining number of predominantly black Catholic parishes. “In some ways, it is progress that our people are feeling at home in many parishes,” Bishop Ricard wrote. “Nevertheless, black parishes have been at the heart of the congress movement to evangelize black Catholics through inculturation of music, liturgy and stewardship. We must discern how to sustain traditionally black Catholic parishes and also how to bring our unique traditions to other parishes.”
* Promoting vocations in black communities with “no time for indifference or delay.”
* Sustaining Catholic education in black communities where “the closure or merger of Catholic schools, often in urban areas, is a grave concern” and should be “tackled at the national level.”
* Incorporating immigrants of African descent into the Black Catholic movement.
* Assuring that black Catholics are included in pastoral planning: “Due mostly to budgetary concerns, a number of diocesan offices of black Catholic ministry are being merged into offices for multicultural ministry. … We must discern prayerfully the ways that this trend helps or hinders the work of Catholic evangelization in the black community.”
“Discern prayerfully” indeed. Stripping minorities in leadership positions of titles their communities took pride in and received as gestures of the church’s sincerity to be inclusive, and then corralling those directors-turned-coordinators in “multicultural” offices usually headed by whites is a bad move.
This is tantamount to opening cots in a room and inviting overnight guests to share the space regardless of their comfort level or needs. After all, they don’t really live here and can save a bundle on hotel costs.
Bishop Ricard concluded his letter by encouraging everyone to see these challenges as “opportunities rather than obstacles.”
Congress X’s action plan offers such an opportunity for the church to move beyond accomplishing what is affordable to building the house of God with architects who have a plan of action that calls for hearts more so than funds.
Carole Greene is a columnist for Catholic News Service.