Rochester to host Caribbean Catholics - Catholic Courier

Rochester to host Caribbean Catholics

Father Michael Upson, head of the diocesan Office of Black Ministries, said he has been working hard for several years to convince the Caribbean Catholics of North America to pick Rochester as the site of its second national convention.

His work paid off: The convention will take place at Rochester’s Crowne Plaza Hotel from 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, to 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19.

The event titled “Call and Response” is being convened in collaboration with the U.S. bishops’ Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees and the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. About 350 West Indian Catholics are expected to attend the event, Father Upson said.

Father Upson noted that there are a large number of West Indian Catholics living in the New York area and upstate, which he believes helped sway convention organizers to hold the event in Rochester.

The first convention, which met two years ago in Arlington, Va., focused on immigration issues, developing and accessing resources, and supporting the Caribbean Catholic family. That convention, according to a history of the organization provided by the diocese, was a response to the U.S. bishops’ 2000 statement, “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity.”

This year’s convention will begin with a reception and cultural show and also will include daily celebration of the Eucharist, and a panel and town-hall discussion. Workshops will include talks on Caribbean women’s spirituality, marriage, church and the Caribbean male, and living in a multicultural society.

Presenters and keynote speakers are Trinidadian Gerald Boodoo, a professor at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania; Dame C. Pearlette Louisy, governor general of St. Lucia; Anna Perkins, dean of studies and professor of social ethics at St. Michael’s Theological College, Jamaica; and Amy Newlon, education and development coordinator in the Migrant and Refugee Services/Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees for the U.S. bishops.

The event also will include a performance by Al St. John and the Trinidad & Tobago Steel Band, which gave a pre-convention performance during the diocese’s 17th-annual Caribbean Catholic Mass June 10 at Rochester’s St. Monica Church. The Mass was celebrated by Father A. Peter Gopaul of Brooklyn, N.Y., a native of Trinidad and Tobago.

“We are people who God has called to different lands,” Father Gopaul said during the Mass.

During the Mass, Father Gopaul encouraged members of the diverse Caribbean community, who hail from a variety of Caribbean countries and backgrounds, to seek their unity in the Eucharist. After the Mass, he said that pressing issues facing the Caribbean community include immigration issues, health care, housing and education.

“These are not unlike the issues the American community is going through,” Father Gopaul said. “For us right now, I see we continue to make strides. Because of the diversity of the Caribbean islands, we are beginning to have an open sense of nationality.”

Although the Caribbean Catholics living in the U.S. are from different countries and backgrounds, many find unity in the fact that they have been displaced from their native countries, Father Upson said.

“You come with your history, with your culture and your spirituality, but you are no longer there,” he said.

To help address that displacement, Father Upson said the diocese is interested in expanding events for local Caribbean Catholics to include a prayer breakfast or another event.

“The church needs our time, our talent and our culture — our many cultures,” Father Upson said. “The church needs a little calypso, a little merengue, and it needs not just the spirit but it needs our history, our past, our present and our cooperation.”

St. Monica parishioner Dawn Glasgow-Cummings said that at the first Caribbean Catholic Convention she learned such useful information as the different types of visas available. She said she also enjoyed being together with other Caribbean Catholics.

“It is wonderful when you look around and see so many Caribbean people here in America,” Glasgow-Cummings said.

The convention also offered a chance for participants to reconnect with some men and women religious they had known during their childhoods, said Glasgow-Cummings’ sister, Pansy Dickinson, also a St. Monica parishioner.

“It was like a reunion for me,” Dickinson said.

The sisters are from Guyana. Although it is a community in South America, they said it shares the Caribbean culture with the neighboring West Indian islands.

Their father was Deacon Joseph Fitzherbert Glasgow Sr., who was active in organizing the annual Caribbean Catholic Mass before his death in 2004.

After the Caribbean Mass, members of the parish sat in the sun and sampled jerk and curry chicken and other Caribbean cuisine coordinated by parishioner Norma Thom. Sharing a meal and the Eucharist are ways to create unity among the diverse Caribbean cultures, Father Gopaul said.

During the Mass, he compared that sharing with Jesus’ actions in establishing the Eucharist.

“Christ took very simple and everyday things and made them extraordinary,” Father Gopaul said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Registration for the Caribbean Catholic convention costs $150, which includes some meals. Hotel rooms are available at a convention rate of $89, and the cutoff date for reservations is July 17. To make reservations, call 585/546-3450 or e-mail hotel@rcpny.com. For details on the convention, contact Sister Joan Angela Edwards at 301/977-5057; Karen Barrington at 301/322-7128; or Norma Blaize at 718/270-4960.

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