CHARLESTON — Hurricane Katrina has caused more than physical and emotional damage in Louisiana and Mississippi. It has left a spiritual void that concerns African-American Catholic church administrators.
During the annual meeting of the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators, held Sept. 29-30 at the Charleston Riverview Hotel, administrators expressed alarm that the spiritual needs of Catholics were going unmet.
Therese Wilson Favors, director of the Office of African-American Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the group had heard that 50-60 percent of the people hit hardest by the Gulf area hurricanes were black Catholics.
“Is there an aggressive plan to deal with that?” she asked. “We’re just hoping we don’t lose that 60 percent. There should be an aggressive plan to make sure that those people are being ministered to.”
Beverly A. Carroll, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for African-American Catholics, said Catholics needed a national plan to bring people back to the Gulf to help them get settled and stabilized.
“How do we bring these people back and help them get their lives together?” she asked in an interview with The Miscellany. “We know how to meet emergency needs, but how do we reestablish families? They don’t have the money to rebuild and can’t come back. Some areas may be unsafe. Families have been spread out and have lost parishes. This is a high priority.”
Another longstanding concern for the group is that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is planning to take a multicultural approach to ethnic ministry that could leave individual ministries under funded and understaffed, sending the wrong message to the different ethnic groups.
“There seems to be a desire to have all the racial ethnic ministries together, but the concern is how we impact the institutional church,” Carroll said. “Our long-range goal is inclusion.”
The administrators meet annually to discuss the ministry, collaborate, network and provide support to one another in their mission of evangelization. Bishop Robert J. Baker met with the group and spoke about unity and building community. He urged the participants to continue their dialogue because if the umbrella of ministries happens at a national level, Catholics will already have the experience of their reflections on those areas.
“The diversity issue has to be developed and nurtured,” Carroll said. “It is difficult because our culture designates who we are. In America, diversity has been equated as being ‘less than.’ If you don’t read well and you are less educated, that gets equated with ethnicity and race. There’s a growing middle class but the issue is always poverty. As church, that gets carried over because we are a product of our culture.” But as Catholics, Carroll said, “we are called to a higher standard.”
M. Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., is the president of NABCA. She said the organization started out to provide resources and support for the evangelization advocacy of ministry to African-American Catholics. She said that the directors are working on behalf of all African- American Catholics to be a voice and a resource for the bishops. They encourage collaboration with other ministries in each diocese.
“It makes no sense to duplicate programs, otherwise you are not being good stewards of resources,” Mandley-Turner said.
If the USCCB moves toward creating one office of ethnic ministries in each diocese, Mandley-Turner said the key will be good leadership.
Another focus of the meeting was the upcoming National Black Catholic Congress X. Five congresses were held in the 1800s; the sixth was held in 1988. The 1988 congress resulted in the National Black Catholic Pastoral Plan, subsequently endorsed by the U.S. bishops, which focused on evangelization.
Joe Powell, chairman of the Committee for Black Catholic Ministry in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., spoke of the importance of evangelization. He said his diocese has a small black Catholic population of approximately 5,000 people, even though New Jersey is 50 percent Catholic. Their original slogan was “You’re not alone.”
“I think Black Catholics’ appreciation of music, liturgical dance, and their appreciation of the Bible culturally brings a lot of nuance to what it means to be Catholic,” he said.
Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries for the Diocese of Charleston, acted as host for the event.
“These meetings serve as a way in which [the administrators] can get resources on how they can become more influential in their roles,” she said.