ORLANDO, Fla.— The 12th National Black Catholic Congress concluded July 9 with delegates from around the country affirming pride in their identity and faith and a new commitment to evangelization, particularly to the marginalized and suffering.
Thirty-two men and women from the Diocese of Charleston were among the 2,000 delegates who attended the event in Orlando, which ran from July 6-9.
Attendees spent four days discussing issues related to the black Catholic community and the Church as a whole, and at the end vowed to coordinate their efforts at evangelization and outreach with those resulting from the National Convocation of Catholic Leaders, which concluded earlier in the week in Orlando.
Kathleen Merritt, director of the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries, said some breakout sessions at the congress focused on how to help victims of mental illness and domestic violence.
“This was something new I have not seen often at congress, and it is a new ministry that needs to be addressed,” Merritt said. She said there were also important discussions on combatting racism and increasing outreach to the poor.
One of the most moving parts of the congress for Merritt was a procession at the opening liturgy that took almost 30 minutes because of the number of clergy who took part.
“That was a motivating force,” she said. “Sometimes we think we’re losing black Catholics and there are not that many of us, but when you go to congress and see the numbers there, and you see the leadership present, you rededicate yourself to the mission of evangelization.”
Johnathan Kirkwood, a member of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, said he was motivated by a keynote speaker who focused on the importance of social justice, and a homily at one of the liturgies that reminded the faithful to use their talents to build up both the universal and the local Church.
Delegates also agreed to a series of pastoral priorities, including:
* Live lives that are “authentically black and truly Catholic” and seek leadership in the Church at all levels.
* Promote the causes for canonization of five holy men and women being considered for sainthood.
* Act justly by promoting the dignity of life, working against racism, and addressing the needs of the mentally ill, the incarcerated, victims of domestic violence and others who are marginalized or suffering.
* Share faith in creative ways, especially through social media and supporting Catholic schools.
* Walk humbly with God and affirm the call to holiness in all vocations of the Church, including marriage, single life, consecrated men and women and clergy.
* Listen and respond to the needs of youth and young adults.
* Align these priorities with outcomes of the recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders, apply them locally and nationally and review them each year.
Youth who attended the Congress came up with a report stressing their commitment to faith and pride in their identity as black Catholics, and they requested more chances to take leadership positions in the Church nationwide.
Photo, CNS/courtesy Nancy Jo Davis, National Black Catholic Congress: The 12th National Black Catholic Congress in Orlando, Fla., closes with a Mass July 9.