WALTERBORO — The annual Black Catholic Day of Reflection focused on the group’s long and rich history in the Diocese of Charleston, while at the same time urging members of the community to build strong foundations for the future.
About 100 people from across the state attended the event June 6, which included a Mass at St. James the Greater Mission in the Ritter community, followed by a lunch and discussion session at St. Anthony Church in Walterboro.
The day’s theme was “Black Catholics: Do You Know Who You Are?”
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass at St. James and said he was glad the historic church marked his first visit to a small rural parish in the diocese.
St. James is in an area of Colleton County also known as Catholic Hill. The parish was established by Bishop John England in 1833, and was first used by plantation owners and their slaves.
The first church burned in 1856 and fell out of use until long after the Civil War, when a visiting priest discovered that African-Americans still practiced the faith of their ancestors.
The priest, Father Daniel Berberich, led an effort to build a church and school on the site. The current church dates from 1935.
Parish tradition states that a former slave, “Vincent of Paul Davis,” helped preserve the Catholic faith. His descendants still attend the church, which is now a mission of St. Anthony.
The Mass featured music by a gospel-style choir with singers from St. James and other churches.
Bishop Guglielmone reflected on the day’s Old Testament reading, which was the story of Tobit and how he received help from the angel Raphael. He encouraged the crowd to use the message as an inspiration to help others in the community, and to help the church.
“Right now we’re going through difficult times as a nation, and as Catholics,” he said. “We want to find ways to proclaim the goodness of God in our lives. We have to believe, just as Tobit was assisted by God, so too are we.
“We don’t walk alone. The recent feast of Pentecost shows us the Holy Spirit is with us. The power of God gives us the strength of God to fulfill his will on Earth,” the bishop said.
He urged the congregation to be the angel Raphael for others who need help.
The afternoon schedule featured five panelists who addressed aspects of “The Future of Evangelization in the Black Community.”
They discussed five priorities for advancing the faith: strengthening marriage, faith formation, promoting vocations, advocating the life and dignity of the human person, and recognizing cultural diversity.
Roosevelt Cummings, a member of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, spoke about his work furthering the pro-life cause. He said black Catholics need to focus on promoting the sanctity of life within their own communities.
“We live in a world where people have lost their way. The black community used to take care of their own,” Cummings said.
“If a child was lost and couldn’t find their way home, the black community took care of them,” he continued. “Things have changed. Because of abortion, we have lost lawyers, doctors, scientists, astronauts … we need to care about what is happening among our own people, and about the life and dignity of the human person.”
Sister Roberta Fulton, of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, told participants to reach out to unchurched people and those who have fallen away.
She said faith formation can put people in touch with their history and the deep meaning Catholicism has had in their community over the years. Sister Roberta stressed that education must go on through Mass and other parish activities.
“Faith formation doesn’t end with the reception of sacraments,” she said. “We need to develop more of an understanding of the love Christ has for us.”
Deacon James Williams II, of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, spoke on ways to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. He offered seven steps toward discerning a vocation:
1. Attend daily Mass and grow in your relationship with God.
2. Receive the sacrament of penance regularly and attempt to live a holy life.
3. Attend frequent eucharistic adoration. Grow in eucharistic prayer and develop a habit of private daily prayer to help you hear God’s voice more clearly.
4. Seek spiritual direction.
5. Develop a devotion to Mary.
6. Become involved in ministries or other activities at your parish.
7. Talk to a vocational director.
Bishop Guglielmone attended the discussion session. He said nurturing vocations in the black Catholic community is crucial to preserving its vitality.
“We cannot be Catholics without the Eucharist, and can’t do the Eucharist without priests,” he said.