Caribbean Catholics to tackle new priorities - Catholic Courier

Caribbean Catholics to tackle new priorities

ROCHESTER — Although the second national convention of Caribbean Catholics of North America is over, the work for volunteers has just begun.

During a town hall meeting Sunday, Aug. 19, Caribbean Catholics who gathered at Rochester’s Crowne Plaza Hotel narrowed their focus to six priorities: immigration, welcoming new arrivals to the United States, Caribbean music ministry, Catholic schools, increasing the involvement of youths and developing a Web site.

Volunteers signed up for committees and will tackle the priorities in advance of the third national convention in 2009 at a location to be determined, said Sister of the Sorrowful Mother Joan Angela Edwards, president of the nine-member governing board of the Caribbean Catholics of North America. Regional meetings in 2008 also will continue the work of the committees, she said.

Since Caribbean Catholics of North America formed in 2003 and incorporated in October 2006, the group has been working to form local chapters across the country, leaders said. Several big cities, including New York, Miami and Houston, have already formed chapters, said Norma Blaize, secretary of the organization and chairwoman of the Brooklyn chapter. If a local chapter is recognized by the national organization and has 10 or more members, the chapter is then able to appoint a national representative.

“If you don’t have a local chapter, then you don’t have a voice,” Sister Edwards said.

According to a mission statement circulated at the convention, Caribbean Catholics of North America is a nonprofit organization aimed at helping Caribbean people and the wider church through spiritual development, advocacy and cultural preservation. The group’s first meeting was in 2005 in Arlington, Va.

As participants reflected on how to fulfill the group’s mission, speakers urged them to build on the messages they had heard during the weekend. In a closing homily on Aug. 19, Msgr. Raymond East, spiritual adviser of Caribbean Catholics of North America, suggested that participants educate themselves on the history of the Caribbean and African slaves.

He emphasized that many black Americans may not even realize their own ties to the Caribbean. Many may have relatives who lived in the Caribbean or who were on slave ships from Africa, which often stopped in the West Indies, he said.

“(Caribbean Catholics) tend to gather in urban areas in black churches, but the problem is our black churches are so diverse, and most of them have forgotten their Caribbean ancestry,” Msgr. East said.

He said churches could provide services and respond to immigrants needs to better welcome them to the United States. He also said that Caribbean Catholics of North America also is prepared to work with bishops in the Caribbean to establish a support system before an immigrant leaves his or her homeland.

“So many Caribbean people are deeply involved in the church, but in the United States, they come here and somehow they become invisible,” Msgr. East said.

Gerard Granado, the general secretary of the Caribbean Conference of Churches, asked during the town hall meeting how long Caribbean people will be considered newcomers to the United States, considering that they have had a significant presence in this country for about half a century.

“It is not begging for a space at the table,” Granado said. “It is a question of claiming a place, because the church is composed of that diversity.”

Some attending the town hall meeting asked for a directory of Caribbean Catholics of North America members to make networking easier, but others expressed fears that some might not participate because of immigration concerns.

Some participants said they found resistance when they tried to start Caribbean ministries at their parishes. Others said they needed support services from the organization to ease the transition into U.S. culture, such as how to navigate its health-care system.

Others suggested that the church work with Caribbean bishops and parishes before they migrate to North America to ensure that a support system is set up before immigrants arrive. Others suggested a spiritual-enrichment program after confirmation to help keep youths involved in the church.

Cecile Motus, interim director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, said information from the bishops’ “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity,” which includes a pastoral mandate to welcome newcomers, was to have been circulated by bishops to priests. She said some training also was conducted.

She suggested those having difficulty in developing a Caribbean ministry should work with Caribbean Catholics of North America, and if that doesn’t work, to contact her office.

Since the release of the statement on welcoming, there has been an increased acceptance of multicultural ministries across the nation, Motus said.

“Where we only had 40 offices of multicultural ministries, now we have 83 (in archdioceses and dioceses across the country),” Motus said. According to the USCCB, there are 205 archdioceses and dioceses in the United States.

Father Michael Upson, who coordinates the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Black Ministries, said the group first seeks out these multicultural offices at the diocese level, if they are available. He urged the group to not get discouraged.

“Remember it’s the Lord’s work, and if it is God’s will, his work will happen,” Father Upson said.

Other speakers urged the group to take an active role in the organization and in their faith.

“Let your light continuously shine so that all of those around you know that you are Caribbean Catholic,” said Sister Joanna Okereke, a member of the Congregation of Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus. She is the coordinator of ethnic ministries for the USCCB’s Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.

At the conclusion of the convention, Sister Edwards said the event had attracted about 125 Caribbean Catholics to Rochester. She said Rochester was picked as the convention location because it has had a Caribbean Mass for 17 years. She said she has attended the Mass for the past several years and through it got to know Father Upson, who advocated for Rochester to host the convention.

“I am very pleased and gratified because I feel that the messages from the speakers were very powerful,” Sister Edwards said. “My wish is that there would have been at least 500 people who could have heard these messages. We did so much work to prepare for this.”

Several young people said they wished there were more youths and young adults at the convention.

“I liked the whole event, especially the workshops, and I wish more youth had come out for it,” said Vonetta Martin, a member of St. Augustine Parish in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Bernard Grizard, director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Parish Support Ministries and its Office of Multicultural Services, of which the Office of Black Ministries is a part, said the spirit of faith filled the gathering.

“I think it’s a wonderful gathering of people,” Grizard said. “Really one of the key things in this conference is we are able to highlight and delineate the unique qualities the Caribbean community can bring to the church in the U.S.”

Father Upson said he looks forward to seeing the organization grow, and he said it received a boost in Rochester.

“It was extremely well coordinated,” Father Upson said. “A lot of time and effort went into it, and it was very spiritual and very uplifting.”

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