BUFFALO — The 10th National Black Catholic Congress closed July 15, after more than 2,000 black Catholics had spent four days praying, celebrating and learning more about the eight principles that pose unique challenges to black communities and the Catholic Church’s seven sacraments.
“Take what you have learned in the workshops and share it with the people back at home … and allow the Lord to use you,” Father Raymond Harris, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told those gathered at the congress’s final session.
During the session, representatives from each of the congress’s eight leadership commissions told participants what they had been doing about the core principles, which are Africa, Catholic education, HIV/AIDS, parish life, social justice, racism, spirituality, and youths and young adults.
The commission on Africa hopes to encourage a dialogue between Africa and the African-American Catholic community by developing a curriculum about Africa, helping communities host events celebrating Africa’s culture and encouraging parishes to become more involved in activities and legislation concerning Africa, said commission facilitator Kim Mazyck.
Members of the Catholic Education Leadership Committee have published a book, titled Sustaining Catholic Education in and for the Black Community, said commission facilitator Kathleen Merrit, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries for the Diocese of Charleston, S.C.
Commissioners also are developing a national support initiative that will provide financial assistance to Catholic schools in black communities, she said.
The leadership commission for the HIV/AIDS principle is dedicated to decreasing the prevalence of the disease in black Catholic communities by increasing awareness and education efforts, said member Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver.
Commissioners have put together an HIV/AIDS resource booklet for parishes and would like every parish to establish an HIV/AIDS ministry, whose participants would help and pray for those suffering from or touched by the disease.
The parish-life leadership commission is committed to helping black parishes find new and effective ways of evangelizing and experiencing vibrancy and growth, and commissioners put together a “tool kit” of best practices and strategies for parishes, she said.
Members of the social-justice leadership commission hope to help black Catholics understand the black experience through the lens of Catholic social teaching and raise awareness and understanding of economic poverty, according to member Donna Grimes of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. There already is a social-justice forum on the congress’s Web site, www.nbccongress.org, and the commission hopes to develop a black-Catholic social-justice network, Grimes said.
The racism commission’s goal is to eliminate the sin of racism by helping American dioceses develop and implement plans to address and combat it, said Robert Ellis, development director for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Mich.
The spirituality leadership commission has been working to help Catholics acknowledge the gifts of black spirituality and God’s call to ongoing evangelization, said Maria Jerkins, director of the Office of Black Ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami, Fla.
Commission members have worked to develop the Institute for Black Catholic Spirituality in collaboration with the Black Catholic Institute at Xavier University, she said.
Youth and young-adult leadership commission members John Phillips of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Ayisha Morgan-Lee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh called upon congress participants to support a holistic approach toward the formation of black-Catholic youth ministers in expanded ministerial and leadership roles within the church.
For the first time, this year’s congress included a concurrent youth and young-adult track, they noted.
Moments later, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Ga., referred to the church’s sacramental nature during his homily at the closing Mass. The Gospel reading had relayed the parable of the Good Samaritan, through which Jesus forces his disciples throughout the ages to think about who their neighbors are and how they should treat them, Archbishop Gregory said.
Each of the seven sacraments helps Catholics understand the meaning of those questions and answer them so as to live like Jesus, he added.
“We are born into the life of the church through baptism, and from that moment forward we are called to live as his disciples. The sacrament of confirmation provides the grace for us to see and to love even the most unlikely people as our neighbors,” Archbishop Gregory said.
“The sacrament of confirmation helps us to answer the probing question of today’s Gospel and Christian life,” he added. “Our answers must always be grounded in our Catholic faith and the way Jesus cared for the people around him. Our future happiness depends on the answers that we give to these questions.”