Black Catholics celebrate faith, culture

GREENVILLE — The singing of a combined Heritage Gospel Choir set the tone for the exuberant and spiritual Black Catholics Heritage Celebration July 8-9.

About 150 people attended the annual diocesan celebration, held at various Upstate venues.

“As eucharistic peoples, we have the opportunity to walk with Jesus each day. As black Catholics, we keep on keeping on, knowing we’re moving toward a great salvation,” said Msgr. Mauricio West, featured speaker for the conference.

Msgr. West was nurtured, he said, at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Columbia and is now, among other things, vicar general of the Diocese of Charlotte. Another priest who traveled from out of state to participate in the conference was Father Anthony Bozeman. Father Bozeman is on loan from the Diocese of Philadelphia to the Josephite Priests, whose main ministry is to African-American Catholics. He is also a member of the Black Catholic Apostolate for Life. He led one of the workshops offered to youth on the evening of July 8.

“I was impressed,” Father Bozeman said. “It’s edifying to have young people ask me to talk about pro-life issues. They seemed sincere about wanting to know the Catholic position.”

The other youth track activity was a forum on evangelization at the neighborhood level. Panel members included Father Paul Williams, vicar for Black Catholics for the Diocese of Charleston; Father Michael Okere, pastor of three parishes in the Pee Dee; Franciscan Brother Henry Fulmer; and Franciscan Sister Catherine Noecker, principal of St. Anthony of Padua School.

St. Anthony was the host parish for the Heritage Mass, celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker and five other priests. Prior to the liturgy, participants were entertained by the children’s choir of St. Anthony Church (The Junior Voices of Heaven), liturgical dancers of the Archdiocese of Atlanta (The Amazing Grace Dancers) and the Heritage Gospel Choir, made up of 33 members from churches in Charleston, Aiken, Columbia, Charlotte and Greenville. Bishop Baker arrived early and sat in the last pew to enjoy the singing and dancing. He joined the applause when singer Gabby Baker, age 12, proclaimed: “We are the eucharistic children for a brighter and peaceful tomorrow.”

Workshops were held in the morning and a banquet in the evening at the Westin Poinsett Hotel. The workshops were presented by Father Jay Scott Newman, a canon lawyer who spoke on “The Real Deal on Marriages, Annulments, Divorces and Remarriages,” and by Kathleen Merritt, diocesan director of ethnic ministries. Merritt spoke on the topic, “Welcoming Made Easy: Unity in Diversity.” She led a discussion about collaboration between black Catholics and Hispanic Catholics and talked about the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document, “Reconciled Through Christ.”

Senorita Sullivan of St. Martin de Porres called the workshops refreshing.

“They let us know the different backgrounds of the Catholic Church in America,” Sullivan said.

Bishop Baker spoke at the Mass and at the banquet, emphasizing the papal Year of the Eucharist by paraphrasing the late Pope John Paul II: “We have many gifts as Catholics, but no other single one except the Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth.”

Msgr. West, the keynote speaker and homilist at the Heritage Mass, called on all Catholics, especially black Catholics, to strive for a consistency between their own lives and the life of Jesus Christ.

“We have to bring the Good News into action in our everyday lives,” said the former vice president for student affairs at Belmont Abbey College. “With our Afro-centrist traditions … we are truly a great people; to realize that greatness, we must commit ourselves, individually and collectively, to the task of Gospel living. We have come too far to turn back now.”