Participants in Catholic congress send out ‘call for solidarity’

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Bishop Robert J. Baker and 30 other people from the Diocese of Charleston attended the 10th National Black Catholic Congress held in Buffalo, N.Y., July 12-15. The congress’ theme was “Christ is With Us: Celebrating the Gifts of the Sacraments.”

During the gathering, more than 2,500 participants from around the United States took part in worship and prayer. They also attended seminars that focused on black Catholic spirituality, education, evangelization and other issues.

Discussion topics centered around eight core principles of concern to black Catholics that the congress agreed to address during its last session in 2002, according to Kathleen Merritt, director of ethnic ministry for the diocese.

The principles are spirituality, parish life, youth and young adults, Catholic education, social justice, racism, Africa and HIV-AIDS and are meant to provide a guideline for ministry to black Catholics around the country, Merritt said.

Merritt and Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, serve on the congress’ leadership commission for education, and presented a book they recently completed, “Sustaining Catholic Education in and for the Black Community.” The book focuses on the importance of keeping Catholic education vital in urban communities.  Sister Roberta, a  Sister of St. Mary Namur, is principal of St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia.

“The book addresses the real concern that a lot of Catholic schools in our inner city neighborhoods across the country are closing, many for financial reasons,” Merritt said. “We’re sending out a call for solidarity. The book looks at some schools that were successful in staying open and offers resources on how we can sustain our black Catholic schools and keep the doors open.”

Merritt said one of the goals they presented to the commission was establishing a fund to provide assistance to Catholic schools in urban neighborhoods that are in danger of closing. She said more than $1,000 in donations was collected for the fund.

Sister Roberta said the congress was one of the largest she has attended and was encouraged both by the content of the discussions and the quality of worship that took place.

“Every day there was liturgy, with a theme focusing on one of the sacraments,” she said. “Prayer was a very big part of this gathering, too. There was plenty of opportunity for prayer together along with the other activities.” Participants also took part in Eucharistic adoration together.

Members of the diocesan group also took part in workshops focusing on the concerns of youth and young adults in the black Catholic community, including peer pressure and HIV/AIDS.

“Young people really played a vital role in this congress,” Sister Roberta said. “There was a lot of focus on developing leadership qualities among young black Catholics.”

Merritt said the next challenge is for the delegation to develop an action plan for increasing ministry to the African-American community in the diocese, centered around the eight principles.  A summary of topics discussed at the event will be presented at the annual Heritage Day celebration for black Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston, which will be Oct. 27.

Also during July, Merritt was elected president of the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators, a group dedicated to meeting the needs of administrators from around the country and helping them provide more effective leadership to the communities they serve.

Merritt said she was nominated by her peers in the group and was honored to be elected.

To learn more about the National Black Catholic Congress, visit