Black Catholics study national survey

ANDERSON—Participants at the annual Black Catholic Day of Reflection spent a day learning  more about their faith and how their peers nationwide relate to the church at the annual Black Catholic Day of Reflection. It was held March 3 at St. Mary of the Angels Church in Anderson.

Much of the day was devoted to the results of a 2011 survey commissioned by the National Black Catholic Congress, said Kathleen Merritt, director of ethnic ministries for the Diocese of Charleston. The congress conducted the analysis in conjunction with the University of Notre Dame Institute of Church Life and the office of the university’s president.

It was the first national questionnaire to assess their level of religious engagement, including satisfaction with parish life, emotional and social fulfillment, and the commitment of time and  energy to the church.

Results were based on discussions with black and white Catholics and Protestants held between July 7 and Aug. 1, 2011.

The survey was held in advance of the National Black Catholic Congress, scheduled for July 19-21 in Indianapolis and centered around the theme “Faith Engaged: Empower. Equip.  Evangelize.” Twenty delegates from South Carolina are scheduled to attend.

Merritt said the results are an important way for the state’s black Catholics to consider their  own relationship to the faith and look for ways to improve outreach in their communities.

“This data gives them a chance to go back to their parishes, look at trends there and discover  ways they can better evangelize,” she said.

The national survey found that black Catholics in general feel more engaged in their faith than white Catholics, and often feel more committed to their parishes on an emotional, spiritual and  social level.

Black Catholics approach church life in ways similar to black Protestants, according to the survey. This includes a desire to have the church provide a sense of community outside worship and to attend church with people they consider friends.

For instance, 27 percent of black Catholics said it is important to attend Mass with friends, while only 7 percent of white Catholics said so.

Other interesting results: Black Catholics are more likely to attend Mass each week (48.2 percent, compared with 30.4 percent of white Catholics), and more likely to be satisfied with the preaching and music at their parish than white Catholics. The data also showed they are more likely than white Catholics to regularly participate in Scripture study, confession, and traditional Catholic devotions like novenas; consider church ritual highly important; and place  special focus on the Eucharist as a center of devotion.

The questionnaire concluded that black Catholics value social interaction in their parishes and churches, and social connections are vital to helping them feel engaged in their faith.

Black Catholics who responded to the survey said they are not satisfied with the church’s  recruitment efforts for black vocations or the promotion of black saints.

Merritt said the results are especially important to consider in South Carolina, where black  Catholics attend a mix of parishes that may be predominantly black, multicultural or  predominantly white.

The challenge, she said, is to help them stay engaged in their faith and pass their faith heritage on to others, no matter the demographics of where they worship.