By Kathy Schmugge
COLUMBIA — Invigorated by the Ninth National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC), the African-American Catholic leaders from the Diocese of Charleston who attended were anxious to share the national pastoral plan discussed this summer in Chicago.
The opportunity presented itself at a meeting sponsored by the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministry at St. Martin de Porres Church Nov. 2. All African-American Catholics across the state were invited to attend as well as those who work in parishes with a large percentage of African-American Catholics.
More than 60 participants attended the meeting and broke into groups discussing the various initiatives proposed by the congress. They were able to come to a consensus on how the pastoral plan would be gradually implemented in the state, examining the action items suggested by the diocesan implementation team.
“We slightly ratified the national plan by moving some action items, but overall the diocese’s one-, three- and five-year plans are similar to the national plan,” said Charlotte House, the diocesan implementation team leader.
The diocesan team also adopted the eight principles of spirituality, parish life, youth and young adults, Catholic education, social justice, racism, Africa and HIV/AIDS from the prioritized action plan proposed at the national congress.
Each principle had its own set of action items for a designated time line and the groups discussed how the principle and action pertained to South Carolina and the feasibility of completing a task within a specific time frame.
Mark Wilson, a high school student and parishioner of St. Martin de Porres, was one of the presenters for the meeting and spoke on youth issues affecting young African-American Catholics. He expressed a need for yearlong youth activities and suggested getting youth involved with starting a street ministry that would target the unchurched youth in South Carolina.
Other key players on the leadership team, some working behind the scenes, were Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, Franciscan Father Paul Williams, vicar for African-American Catholics, and Judge Arthur MacFarland, Grand Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver.
“The people who attended were positive, energetic, and excited. I was especially glad to see a large number of young people,” said Father Williams who also commented on how the bishop, who attended both the meeting and the congress, was very active in the discussions and made a positive impact by his presence and support.
When people gave proposals on how to remodel and expand Catholic education for the African-American community, the Catholic elementary schools, St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville and St. Martin de Porres in Columbia were mentioned. Bishop Robert J. Baker assured those at the meeting that he was committed to keeping both schools viable.
In addition to the pastoral plan, Bishop Baker has asked the African-American Catholic leadership in the diocese to assist him in drafting a pastoral letter to the African-American Catholics in South Carolina.
“I see the Black Catholic community as an integral part of the diocese, not a group on the peripheral,” said Father Williams. “And the bishop wants the African-American Catholics to claim their rightful place within the diocese, that is why the office of Ethnic Ministry is essential. It gives us the freedom we need to bring out our culture to create a more beautiful mosaic of a church that worships one God, one Christ, under the vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul II and with the bishop of the Diocese of Charleston who is in union with the pope.”