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Black Catholics’ Hopes

African-Americans’ ‘History Month’ Progress Report

BY JEFF ZIEGLER

REGISTER CORRESPONDENT

February 15-21, 2009 Issue | Posted 2/6/09 at 10:01 AM

 

NEW YORK — The annual commemoration of Black History Month takes on special significance this February following the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Early 2009 also saw the election of the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee — former Augustinian seminarian Michael Steele — and Senate confirmation of the nation’s first black attorney general, Eric Holder.

For Catholics, the month began with the National Day of Prayer for the African American Family.

“The disintegration of the family structure has been a major concern for a number of years,” says Franciscan Father Jim Goode, who started the day of prayer in 1989 and serves as president of the New York-based National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life. The day is “a special day in which we affirm our heritage within our individual families by worshipping at the Eucharistic table of the Lord, praying together in the home, engaging in family Scripture reading, reciting the Rosary to--gether, and/or meditating together as a family.”

The Register asked Father Goode and other black Catholic leaders to assess the challenges facing the 2.3 million-member African-American community.

“African-American Catholics have had in recent years a collective conversation about challenges facing African-American communities,” said Beverly Carroll, assistant director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church. “Common themes tend to emerge … spirituality, Catholic education, Africa, AIDS, parish life, racism, social justice and life, and youth and young adults.

“In addition, African-American Catholics face the same challenges as other African-Americans: the economy, job loss, housing concerns, strengthening marriage and the family, and health care, to name a few,” she said.

“The most significant challenge the African-American community is facing today,” said Kathleen Merritt, president of the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators, is “being able to survive the economic crisis.” Merritt, who serves as director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries for the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., told the Register that “many families living in African-American housing communities are worse off than they have ever been.”

Parish and school closings are also taking their toll. “Many African-American Catholic leaders are observing the pattern of school and parish closings across the nation as [dioceses] struggle with the dwindling number of Catholic priests and the increasing costs of Catholic schools,” said Dominican Sister Jamie Phelps, director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. As a result, “many feel that the Church is abandoning or is indifferent to” the community.


13 Million Lives

Such closings are particularly tragic because “any African-American Catholic will tell you that their success is based on the fact that they received an excellent Catholic education,” said Auxiliary Bishop Martin Holley of Washington. “The greatest strength of the African-American Catholic community is the Catholic Church’s education that it provides in Catholic schools and the Catholic faith offered in the parish religious education program.”

Following a report that the abortion rate among African-American women is five times higher than that of white women, Bishop Holley, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on African American Affairs, issued a statement in October. “Since the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy,” he wrote, “the No. 1 cause of death in the African-American community has been abortion. We have lost over 13 million lives. To put that in perspective, it is one-third of our present black population. … We must demand an end to the victimizing of African-American children, women, families and communities by Planned Parenthood and others in the abortion industry. Over 80% of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in minority neighborhoods.”

Bishop Holley and Father Goode, like other African-American Catholic leaders, offered prayers for the new president and expressed confidence he will serve as an inspiration to youth. “President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters will be powerful role models for the African-American family, especially for our young men and women,” said Father Goode. “We will call on God and Mary the Mother of God to guide his every action and protect him from all hurt, harm and danger. In our daily Masses, Rosaries and prayers, we will include the intention that President Barack Obama be directed by the power of the Holy Spirit, to call for an end to abortion and all acts of violence, evil and injustice that destroy the sacredness of life in the United States of America.”

“It is my hope and prayer that he will be successful in fulfilling the duties entrusted to him by all Americans as he assumes the office of president of the United States of America, and that he might inspire many young men and women to desire to follow his example in the future,” Bishop Holley adds. “May the Lord place in the center of his heart a deep desire and the capacity to promote the respect and dignity of every human person, from conception to natural death.”

Jeff Ziegler is based

in Ellenboro, North Carolina.