Reject spiritual 'junk food' evangelization speaker says
By Priscilla Greear (The Georgia Bulletin)
ATLANTA, Ga., Aug. 28, 2006 (www.catholic.org) - Over 500 African-American priests and laypersons journeyed from across the nation to Atlanta for the 2006 Interregional African-American Catholic Evangelization Conference, where they focused on becoming better evangelizers through prayer, the sacraments and solid formation, and trusting in God’s grace and love to overcome any personal limitations.
The conference was held Aug. 4-6 with the theme of “Getting’ on the Good Foot, Runnin’ to the Kingdom,” capitalizing on the spirit of Isaiah as he called the people who had grown complacent in exile in Persia to return to Jerusalem to work and wait for the promises of God to be fulfilled. The conference grew out of a National Black Catholic Congress regional meeting in Louisiana focused on evangelizing African-Americans in 1993, and the first conference was held in 1995 in Memphis, Tenn.
This year’s event drew people from over 20 dioceses, including sizable numbers of youth and young adults. There was a youth summit and a young adult roundtable to create a national agenda for outreach to the young as part of preparations for the National Black Catholic Congress in 2007 in Buffalo, N.Y., which is held every four years. According to the NBCC Web site, there are an estimated 3 million African-American Catholics in the United States out of the 69.1 million Catholics in total, and globally 270 million of African descent out of over a billion worldwide.
The opening and closing Masses were celebrated by Bishop Martin Holley, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. Workshops addressed catechesis, health issues among African-Americans, spirituality, relationships and evangelization. Other sessions included one on the “body and soul” wellness program to promote eating five to nine fruits and vegetables daily, HIV ministry, sacred movement, effective programs for youth and children, the diaconate, healthy marriage and “hip hop hypocrisy.”
Conference coordinating team member Bertharene Young of Memphis, Tenn., was on hand at a registration table to greet participants. She recalled the first time she attended the conference in Baltimore, Md., with a busload from Memphis, Tenn.
“I became involved and so excited about what was going on in the Catholic faith. And there are many good things happening and our role (as African-Americans) is becoming more monumental each day. And it’s important that our ethnicity be remembered in the liturgy. Every culture should have a right to display their own ethnicity, celebrating who they are, what they are and whose they are. And we can’t ever forget that - particularly whose we are.”
Ethnicity was indeed celebrated in the liturgies, starting with an African drum call to worship. Kevin Johnson, director of the music department at Spelman College, and his wife, Celeste, orchestrated music for the event. They assembled a choir from various churches and were assisted by Morehouse student Jason Taylor and their son Kevin Thomas, who sang and played drums.
Priests and religious wore brightly colored stoles on vestments with designs including that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a black angel and the Josephite order that ministers to black Catholics. Classic hymns included “Lead Me, Guide Me,” “Total Praise” and “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.” Liturgical dancers clad in rose, tan and pink-colored leotards and skirts danced and carried in bowls of burning incense.