Black Catholics celebrate ‘spirituality of action’

ROCK HILL — Finding the special vocation God has in store for every person was the central focus of the 2008 Diocese of Charles ton Black Catholic Heritage Celebration, held Oct. 17-18 at St. Mary Church in Rock Hill.  
The theme for this year’s event was “Called to Holiness: Living a Spirituality of Action.” The celebration was hosted by the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries, directed by Kathleen Merritt.
About 125 people from around the diocese took part in workshops and a prayer service, ate meals together, listened to speeches and gospel music, and attended a special celebration Mass.
Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of New Orleans, was the keynote speaker and homilist for the Mass.
At the beginning of his morning session discourse, Bishop Fabre asked a boy from the audience to empty a small can of shaving cream into a bowl. He said the large amount of product that came out of the can was symbolic of the huge potential for serving God that exists within everyone.
“Do not be afraid to hear the call. God has equipped you for the vocation he has planned for you,” Bishop Fabre said. “He has put a lot in you … God gives us directions in choosing our vocation and we have to follow them. A vocation is different than a career … it’s far more encompassing and goes far deeper. A vocation is something that comes from within us. It’s how we live our lives to go grow closer to God.”
The bishop said people are called to three important types of vocations: married life, single life, and the priesthood or religious life. He said married life is important because a husband and wife are called to build holy lives together and to “be like Christ to each other,” but single life is equally important.
“A vocation to the single life is difficult because it’s a life that is very maligned,” Bishop Fabre said. “You’re always asked, ‘When are you going to get married?’ Single people tend to be generous with their time, and many are full of great joy and have many gifts. We need to thank a single person we know for giving witness to that important vocation.”
The bishop stressed the need for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the black community. He encouraged parents to discuss the possibility with their children.
“Priests and religious are called to live their lives for Christ, and to take care of the people of God,” Bishop Fabre said. “They help remind us that there is a life to come beyond the one we’re living right now … These days parents are often reluctant to broach the subject with their children. We have to get the discussion back into the home.”
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life also were the focus of workshops held for adults. Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Martin de Porres in Columbia, and Father Henry Kulah, administrator of St. Patrick Church in Charles ton, told the stories of how they decided to become priests.
In the afternoon, Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, and Brother Henry L. Fulmer, OFM, discussed the many opportunities to serve the community through religious life.
Msgr. Mauricio West, vicar general of the Diocese of Charlotte, spoke about “Biblical Foundations of Ministry” during the afternoon. He related the lessons he learned from priests and sisters growing up in Columbia and attending St. Martin de Porres and Cardinal Newman High School.
Msgr. West said baptism gives all Catholics the special gift of a loving relationship with God, and that they in turn must share that gift with other people, especially those in need.
He challenged the crowd to channel their love of God into work to uplift people in their own parishes, and in the black community as a whole.
“We need to look at our history and bring forth those gifts that have helped us in the past,” Msgr. West said.
“We have always surpassed limits set for us by others, and we can tangibly confront the harmful realities that threaten our communities. We must constantly use what we’ve learned from our history to carry on the message of the Gospel,” he said. “Who empowers us to do the work we do? … Jesus Christ. The life of faith demands that we have more than a passing interest in our brothers and sisters.”
One of the special guests was Janice Curtis Greene, a Catholic and professional storyteller from Baltimore, Md. She uses African folk tales and other stories as a vehicle to promote Gospel values. Greene performed for the middle and high school students and also during the lunch hour.
Kathleen Merritt rounded out the festival with updates on events in the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Black Catholics, which is part of ethnic ministries. She encouraged those who attended to be generous in giving to their parishes, and to the two historically black Catholic schools in the diocese, St. Martin de Porres and St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville.
Merritt said black Catholics also need to support special collections for missions in their community and to help each other.
“The challenge I give you is to go back into the neighborhoods and take care of our youth,” she said. “Our ministry is to go back into the neighborhoods and help our people.”