Black Catholics reflect on experiences at national gathering - Catholic Courier
People worship in a crowded church. The opening eucharistic celebration for the National Black Catholic Congress took place Aug. 21 at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It was standing room only with more than 3,000 in attendance. (Photo courtesy of Harold Moore)

Black Catholics reflect on experiences at national gathering

GATES — “OK, you guys have 30 seconds left! After that we’re discussing!”

That’s the directive Chari Peter, 24, recently gave to a group of people who’d gathered at the diocesan Pastoral Center to share their experiences from the National Black Catholic Congress XIII, which took place July 20-23 in Maryland.

Chari and 13-year-old Mya Scalzo had been the youngest pilgrims in the contingent that traveled to the congress from the Diocese of Rochester, and the two young women worked together to lead a portion of a post-congress gathering on Sept. 9.

Young people need freedom to use their gifts with the support of community leaders

Chari and Mya encouraged their fellow pilgrims to engage in small-group discussions on such topics as the biggest challenges and issues facing Black Catholics, then called forth one representative from each group to share their findings.

Having placed buzzers near the groups, Chari and Mya also enlivened the discussion by sprinkling trivia questions about the congress into the proceedings and awarding points to those who hit their buzzers first and answered questions correctly. Up for grabs was a soup-bowl cozy handmade by Mya, who belongs to the Southeast Rochester Catholic Community.

The two young women had been asked to lead the period of reflection and sharing, but were given free rein to decide how they wanted to carry out the task, explained Elizabeth Johnston, diocesan coordinator of life issues and cultural ministries.

“That’s how you engage young people, because they are smart, they are creative and they know how to give you what you need in the way in which they understand it,” she explained.

Previous discussions at diocesan gatherings related to the National Black Catholic Congress have identified a strong desire for greater youth and young-adult participation in the Black Catholic community, but these discussions typically have stopped short of pondering steps to bring young people back into the community, Johnston said.

Too often, Johnston said she has seen leaders in various communities attempt to engage young people by dictating how they should complete a task and hovering over them. That approach is rarely successful, she added.

Rather, participants in last October’s diocesan Day of Reflection in anticipation of the congress called for Black Catholics to encourage the young people in their communities to grow in their faith, while giving them the space to use their gifts and equipping them with the tools to become disciples, evangelizers and missionaries, Johnston said.

“You engage the young church by being there, accompanying them, but stepping out of the way. But the moment that you see that they’re struggling, just offer help, but then move out of the way again, because they’ve got it,” she said.

Black Catholics have unique gifts to share with the broader Catholic community

Just as young people contribute unique gifts and talents to their communities, Black Catholics also bring unique gifts to the broader Catholic community, Johnston said, noting that many of the NBCC pilgrims belong to parishes that are predominantly White.

“We had a lot of talk about, how do I bring me and my gift of being me to the rest of the community, especially when my community is predominantly a White community? What are some ways in which we can bring the gift of Black Catholics to the rest of the diocese?” Johnston said.

Yvonne Thorne, who belongs to St. Marianne Cope Parish in Henrietta, said she has been pondering this question since she returned home from the congress.

“I remember the question being asked at congress, ‘What are you going to do on July 24?’ The congress ended July 23, so what were you going to do the next day?” she remarked during the post-congress gathering.

At the request of her parish’s pastoral leaders, Thorne wrote a reflection about her experiences at the congress to share with the parish, which displayed her words and some of her photos on its website and in the church narthex. Thorne said she was surprised to see how interested parishioners have been in learning about the National Black Catholic Congress and her experience.

National Black Catholic Congress delegates worked on national Pastoral Plan of Action

Thorne and Chari, who belongs to St. Monica Parish in Rochester, were the Diocese of Rochester’s official delegates to the congress, so during the event, they met with the delegates from other dioceses throughout the nation to discuss issues of concern to the Black Catholic community. In the coming months, they will meet with Johnston and Mike Sauter, director of the diocesan Department of Pastoral Services to devise ways to implement things that were discussed at the event.

During the congress, delegates worked to develop a five-year, national Pastoral Plan of Action, which is expected to be released in during Black Catholic History Month in November, Johnston added.

Tags: Black Catholics, Faith in Action
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