Black Catholic Congress participation sought



CHARLESTON — Future planning for diocesan participation in next year’s National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC) in Chicago was the focal point of an Office of Black Catholics Leadership Advisory Board meeting at Our Lady of Mercy Church Nov. 3.

Five delegates from the Diocese of Charleston — Kathleen Merritt, Ernestine Harris, Vernessa McDonald, Sherry Seabrook, and diocesan team leader Charlotte House — attended a NBCC IX regional meeting in Baltimore the first week of October to prepare for the Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 2002, gathering at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Windy City.

House presented a history of the NBCC and also led a review of the “Guide for Diocesan Implementation Teams.”

The first congress met in 1889; there were four more in the 19th century, and three were held in the 20th century. Each congress designated a theme and created a plan of action.

The next congress is focusing around leadership to improve the spiritual, mental, and physical conditions of African-Americans. Under the theme “Black Catholic Leadership in the 21st Century: Solidarity in Action,” eight issues will be discussed — spirituality, parish life, youth and young adults, Catholic education, social justice, racism, Africa, and HIV/AIDS.

As in the past, each diocese has been asked to designate a day of reflection to discuss the eight issues and to forward any amendments regarding a declaration of principles and a plan of action.

That plan might include addressing such areas as economic development, criminal justice, health, leadership development, diversity, identity formation, services to seniors, and establishing partnerships.

This process is designed to involve the entire state in discussion and reflection on the best way of implementing the Declaration of NBCC Principles within the diocese and its parishes.

The national congress office is suggesting that days of reflection be held between December and March. The Office of Ethnic Ministries is in the process of securing a date to focus on these areas of interest and concern. Tentatively, the gathering will be set for some time between Dec. 1 and March 20, 2002, as material compiled from reflection groups must be submitted to conference organizers by the end of March.

Merritt, director of Ethnic Ministries, said that the diocese would pay the $125 registration fee for 20 delegates to attend the conference in Chicago; however, participants would be responsible for their own hotel and transportation costs.

Also at the leadership board meeting, plans for a June 2002 reconciliation Mass for the concerns of African-American Catholics to be celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker were discussed. The liturgy is themed “Gifts of Our African-American Brothers and Sisters.”

The advisory board will present the information from this meeting to the members of the Office of Black Catholics at a later date.

At the service, a letter of acceptance for the bishop’s apology on slavery will be presented. A draft response, written by Deborah Gourdin, was examined at the meeting, and some changes were recommended.

Among other agenda items, an update on a proposed Black Catholic history video was reported on by Merritt.