Black Catholic Congress is a memorable experience

By Sheila Ojendyk

GREENVILLE — Representatives from the Palmetto State took home some powerful memories from the National Black Catholic Congress in Chicago Aug. 29.

People were awed from the start by the procession for the opening liturgy which included four cardinals and many bishops, together with diocesan officials.

A special ceremony on Aug. 30, the “Font of Living Water,” symbolized unity. An elder representative from each diocese brought a vial of holy water from home and poured it into a communal font. Amelia Taylor, from Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston, represented the Diocese of Charleston. Later, another representative from each diocese filled a vial from the mingled holy water to bring back as a symbol of unity with other African-American Catholics.

Kathleen Merritt, director of Ethnic Ministries, described the emotional response of participants when Bishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle of the Diocese of Koforidua, Ghana, apologized from the black people of Africa to the black people of America for selling their ancestors into slavery. Merritt said nobody expected this to happen and many people cried.

Bishop Robert J. Baker said of the national event, “I enjoyed very much being at the congress in Chicago with representatives of our South Carolina African-American community. In addition to listening to the challenging speakers, our Diocese of Charleston group had a planning-for-the future luncheon, and those present are looking forward to advising me on a pastoral letter of ministry to our African-American Catholic community. Father Paul Williams, Kathleen Merritt, and Judge Arthur McFarland will co-chair the Advisory Committee.”

The Advisory Committee is charged with developing one-, three-, and five-year plans to address the eight principles targeted by the National Black Catholic Congress.

The targeted principles are spirituality, parish life, youth and young adults, Catholic education, social justice, racism, Africa, and HIV/AIDS.

Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Martin de Porres in Columbia and vicar for African-American Catholics, said the main message he got from the congress was “a call for African-American Catholics to evangelize other African-Americans.”

He emphasized that the need is to reach the unchurched, not to proselytize other Christians. A study done several years ago identified 50 percent of South Carolinians as being unchurched.

There are approximately 3,000 black Catholics living in South Carolina and an estimated 200 million black Catholics worldwide.

On Sept. 8, Father Steven Pavignano nicely summed up the congress for the congregation at St. Anthony in Greenville.

“Pray for the guidance for ways to address these issues. … It’s not easy. …What God wants is the world that God created back in unity and peace.”