Korean Catholicism cascaded from Martyrs’ faiths

By Tschangho John Kim

May is a special month for Korean Catholics. Saint Pope John Paul II canonized 103 Korean martyrs to sainthood in May 6, 1984. Pope Francis beatified 124 Koreans including 123 martyrs in 2014, and declared May 29 to be the day of commemoration for the Blessed. In addition, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Korea dedicated the month of May to adore the Virgin Mary.

Catholicism has been introduced into Korea not by missionaries, but by Korean scholars searching for the truth of the universe, a unique case in the history of religion. From early 17th century, a few scholars studied a book written by a Jesuit priest Mateo Ricci titled, “The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven.”  Since 1777, a few scholars gathered in a Buddhist Temple regularly and discussed on the new idea that came from the West. One of the scholars, Seung-Hoon Lee, had an opportunity to visit Beijing, China as a member of King’s delegation in 1783. He stayed there for few months and met several Jesuit priests, and finally was baptized as Peter by Fr. Jean-Joseph de Grammont, became the first official Korean Catholic. When he returned back to Korea, a number of catechism books, crosses, rosaries and other sacred items came along with him that guided those yearning scholars as lighthouse for searching for the truth about the Creator.

By 1785, Peter Seung-Hoon Lee has baptized more than a thousand, and thus few leaders thought they need to establish a church and a sacerdotalism. They self-appointed a bishop and few priests and became disciples for spreading the Gospel which they have translated into Korean. They served Masses, communions and confessions. One of them soon found out that no one allowed to exercise priesthood without ordination and proper education. They wrote a letter with explaining what they did to Bishop Alexander de Gouvea in Beijing who was stunned at the least to hear the self-appointed sacerdotalim, asked them to stop practicing sacraments, and the self-appointed sacerdotalism in Korea thus ended in 1790. At the time, Bishop Gouvea was so moved by the faiths expressed in the letter, he dispatched a Chinese priest named Fr. James Wenmo Chou, the first foreign priest ever arrived in Korea in 1794.

Catholicism spread steadily and widely in the Yi dynasty Korea, particularly after a few missionaries arrived from the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1831 headed by Bishop Lurent Imbert. But the faith soon faced in conflict with Neo-Confucianism, the governing philosophy in that society, and with the traditional culture. Catholic teaching then banned the practice of ancestral rites as deifying activities while Korean custom considered it as a filial duty to ancestors. In addition, the dominant strict hierarchical social order in the hermit kingdom could not tolerate the idea of the principal equality of all mankind. The kingdom’s authority thus banned Catholicism as a dangerous belief that might eventually destroy the system based on which the kingdom has founded.

The persecution that began in 1801 lasted for about 80 years during which time more than 10,000 of the Catholics have been martyred. St. Bishop Imbert was martyred in 1839 and was canonized in 1984. Among 103 Saints and 124 Blessed, there were 10 martyrs came from just one family. St. Paul Hasang Chung, his mother, St. Cecilia Choi Yoo and his sister St. Elisabeth Junghye Chung were canonized in 1984 by St. John Paul II. His father, Augustine Yakjong Chung and his brother, Carlos Chulsan Chung were beatified in 2014 by Pope Francis.

The persecution finally ended in 1882 and religious freedom was officially declared in 1894. Since, Catholics in Korea have been steadily increased to about 10% of the South Korean population of 51 million as of 2018.

Korean Catholics in the northern Virginia gathered together in 1985 and began a mission named after St. Paul Hasang Chung. The St. Paul Chung Parish in the Arlington diocese thus started with about 1,100 faithful now has 6,700 registered parishioners, the largest among Korean parishes in the USA. The Parish church was completed in 1995 with the following passion engraved on the cornerstone of the church, “We dedicate the Church to the generations to follow as heritage of out motherland we left.”

Reference
1. A Brief History of Korean Catholicism (in Korean), St. Andrew Kim Parish, LA, 2006, http://www.standrewkimchicago.org/xe/catechism/9523
2. Catholic Bishiops’ Conference in Korea, Dawn of Catholicism in Korea, http://english.cbck.or.kr/history/106; http://english.cbck.or.kr/history/1178
3. The Wall Street Journal, 2014, A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Korea, Aug 14, 2014. https://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2014/08/14/a-brief-history-of-the-catholic-church-in-korea/
4. Kirsteen Kim, 2016, Are Koreans the world’s most dynamic Catholics? Catholic Herald Nov. 10, 2016, http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/november-11th-2016/are-koreans-the-worlds-most-dynamic-catholics/

 

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Prayer becomes habit with Lightworks

Lightworks, the Ignation spiritual program, is a 14-week series focused on praying with the Gospels. You can find out more on Lightworks here.

Men and women of all ages gather together at various parishes across the Diocese of Arlington, and meet in groups that speak Vietnamese, Korean, and English.

Here is what folks had to say about Lightworks this year:

  • “[I] feel more intimate with the Bible.”
  • “Prayer became a habit in every day life.”
  • “Sharing and listening in the group became spiritual and enriched.”

Rob, who attends with his wife , shared:

“My wife Maria is a veteran of Lightworks and asked me to participate with her.  I agreed because I thought it would be something good for us to do together.  I’m glad I did.  I look forward to it every Monday night now.  Liem, our leader is great!  He adds so much wisdom!

Lightworks gets two thumbs up from me.  It has been a real positive experience for my wife as well, as she has participated several times.

The results are in! People who participate in Lightworks have nothing but good words to share!

Check out some photos from this year’s participants:

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Read more on Lightworks:

Celebration of San Pedro Calungsod

On Saturday, April 14, a Mass Celebration honoring the (belated) Feast of San Pedro Calungsod, was held at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, in Vienna, VA. The homily was given my Fr. William Metzger, Parochial Vicar. After Mass, a reception was held in the church’s hall.

Read his homily here: Homily by Fr Metzger April 2018

A statue of San Pedro permanently resides at Our lady of Good Counsel School, and was brought out for the celebration of the Eucharist. The school’s religion teacher, Robin Williams, wrote about the the impact of San Pedro’s presence at the school.

San Pedro continues to be an inspiration for the middle school students of Our Lady of Good Counsel! Although the students are now accustomed to the statue of San Pedro in the classroom, they still feel a close connection to the youthful saint who laid down his life for his faith.

Through San Pedro’s example, the students at OLGC realize that even though they are young, they too can do great things – especially while serving our Lord. The students enjoy learning the story of San Pedro and they are amazed to learn that he joined a group of missionaries at the age of 13. San Pedro’s life story gives the students confidence and courage to bring the Good News to all they meet. San Pedro helps the students put their trust in God and to not be afraid to boldly live their faith.

San Pedro has been a blessing to our middle school. What a wonderful example we have for the youth of our parish in San Pedro Calungsod! We are grateful that you have given us such a wonderful gift in allowing us to have the visual reminder of San Pedro in the classroom!

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The statue of San Pedro at OLGC

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Fr. Metzger blesses the meal at the reception following the Mass celebration

 

St. Joseph Goes to KUJENGA

By Deacon Albert Anderson
Chairperson for the Black Catholic Ministry, Diocese of Arlington
St. Joseph of Alexandria, VA

From Friday, March 2nd to Sunday, March 4th, 2018 several members of the St. Joseph (Alexandria, VA) parish family, together with youth and elders from the Diocese of Richmond and Archdiocese of Baltimore, attended the annual KUJENGA Youth Retreat in Richmond, VA.

Kujenga is a Swahili word, meaning “to build“. Hosted by the Catholic Diocese of Richmond’s Office for Black Catholics/Asian Ministry, Pam Harris, Th.M., Director, the weekend-long experience, designed for rising freshmen through high school seniors, was ordered toward building Christ centered, family-oriented leadership skills for youth in the Black Catholic community. This was accomplished through a series of presentations, small group discussions, games and faith sharing.

The setting was the beautiful 150-acre campus of the Roslyn Conference & Retreat Center. With its peaceful rolling hills and beautiful trees, it was a perfect place for our young people to get away from the distractions of the secular world and focus on how to best use their God given talents to build up His kingdom.

All cell phones were collected Saturday morning, and, after some initial moaning and groaning, no one seemed to miss them! The day began with a wonderful breakfast (CHAKULA) in a spacious dining hall with high ceilings and lots of windows looking out over the hills and valleys. This was followed by KARIBU – Welcome and Orientation: safety briefing; rules of and expectations for the Retreat, given by Fr. Anthony Bozeman, S.S.J. and Pam Harris. A “Hand Up” rule was established whereby whenever Fr. Bozeman, Pam or one of the Elders raised his or her hand, everyone got quiet and focused their attention on whoever “had the floor”. It was a wonderful, fun and effective way to maintain focus on the speaker.

Family Elders were then introduced, and each young person was assigned to a “Family”. The Elders were responsible for: encouraging youth participation and attention during presentations and throughout the weekend; keeping all young people in their family involved during the exercises; asking leading questions posed by presenters and facilitators; encouraging family members to participate in prayer services and liturgy; and getting their “children” to and from the sessions on time. There were also Aunts and Uncles assigned for the weekend. Their responsibilities included: environment (Mass, prayer services, Karamu feast); setting up snacks; assisting with wake up/lights out, head counts.

Families were asked to choose a Swahili Family Name that suited their particular family charism. They were also asked to read and sign the Family Pledge and adhere to a strict Code of Conduct. Then, a family symbol was chosen, and each young person took part in drawing the symbol on a large poster board. It was suggested to add something that symbolizes Christ (cross, dove, church, etc.). A family member was chosen to state the family name, explain what the name meant and why it was selected. As each family proclaimed its name, a family member lit a candle on the family table.

There were interactive presentations given on each of the seven principles of the Nguzo Saba (African-American Catholic Principles and the seven principles of Kwanzaa). Before every presentation of a principle, one candle of the Kinara (Swahili for candle holder) was lit. At the end of that presentation, the candle was extinguished. Two family members from one family were chosen by table Elders for one of them to light the candle as the other reads the definition of the principle. The candles are placed three red on the left, three green on the right, and a single black candle in the center. Red symbolizes past, present and future suffering for dignity and freedom. Black symbolizes the people of African descent. Green symbolizes hope in people of African descent, self-hood, self-determination, and in the new creation and Third World of truth, justice, peace and freedom for all.

Mario Dance did a fantastic job as our leader of song for the praise and worship gatherings.

The presentations were:

  1. Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness – Devin Jones
  2. Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race – Ashley Dixon
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together – Pam Harris
  4. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination):  To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. – Mario Dance
  5. Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it – Candra Parker
  6. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together – Chauntele Taylor
  7. Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in God, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness – Deacon Al Anderson

One of the most powerfully poignant times of the weekend came during Family Dialogue Courageous Conversation in the Entire Family (Authentically Black and Catholic) “Girls to Boys – Boys to Girls – Women to Boys – Men to Girls”. The objective was to encourage the teens to explore their identity as male/female African American Catholics. I participated in one of the all-male sub sessions “Boys to Men”. The personal stories shared by the young men about the challenges they face with interpersonal relationships were truly eye-opening. I’ve been told that the “Girls to Women” session was equally moving.

Sunday began in the beautiful chapel, overlooking a lush green valley. The retreat concluded Sunday afternoon with a Commissioning / Sending Forth Service. Following are some reflections by the St. Joseph delegation:

Beverly Anderson: The weekend I spent as the “aunt” to over 30 young people was so inspiring. The friendships developed, sharing and the overall fellowship shown by the youth will last with me for years. We need more weekends for youth to come together and share their challenges and struggle. Maybe this will help reduce some of the violence we are seeing in our schools.
Phyllis Johnson: The Unity, Respect and Reciprocity was refreshing to see in our youth. I left the retreat knowing our world is in capable hands. Young men and women ready for the challenges ahead!
Anthony Johnson: I served as an Elder and I could not have been [more] proud of my family.  As it turned out, I had one son and five daughters. This is significant because in my own family upbringing I had six older sisters to guide and shape me.  My focus was on the son but his sisters expressed and showed so much love – I simply watched and observed as a proud parent would.  They helped one another and their social and play demands were such that no one was excluded.  I was impressed at how well they did ‘across’ the age gap and without ‘technology’.  They thrived and formed lasting friendships – that I continue to hear them speak of well after KUJENGA.  Reports from my family’s actual parents are extremely positive and enriching – as I have been stopped after masses and given so much positive feedback!  I witnessed great leadership at KUJENGA and it has continued back at the parish!
Cameron Hubbard: I got a chance to meet new people. And I enjoyed my new family because I couldn’t believe I had 5 sisters, which had me laughing because I really do have 5 sisters so I knew I was in for it. Learning how to be a leader and helping the community was awesome. I was happy that we made bags with soap, snacks, deodorant, toothpaste and all kinds of things to give to the needy. It made me feel good to help others. And being able to talk about the problems that we as African American Males face was very helpful. Being able to show a new altar sever what Mr. Anthony taught me really made me feel (good) to show ‘n teach my best so that the Lord and Mr. Anthony would be proud of me. And getting a chance to bond with the other altar brothers from our Church was cool. The way the church was designed I will never forget because it was beautiful and different in the way it was built. I enjoyed the trip; it was a learning experience I will never forget!
I thank GOD I was chosen to go on this trip.
Jai Thompson: I really enjoyed the KUJENGA retreat.  It was nice to interact with other Black Catholic teens my age.  Learning about the Black priests and saints was very interesting, and I liked the activities.  I look forward to attending again in the future.  The food was delicious!
Kim Thompsom: KUJENGA was an amazing experience. I met many other Black Catholics and learned so much about African American Catholic history. It is an excellent environment to be in. I enjoyed my time at KUJENGA.
Mone` Williams: Kujenga was a great experience as Black Catholic youth. It showed us as teens and individuals that there are more people like us in this world than we realize and that we have to stick together to make sure this world is a better place for everyone. We all got to fellowship and become good friends outside of Kujenga. Personally, I am on FaceTime with one of the girls almost every day and have texting group chats with most of the teens from Baltimore. Overall, Kujenga was a very fun experience and I hope to be able to go back next year.

Yours in Christ,
Deacon Al

*Original post edited for length and clarity
Photos taken by Phyllis Johnson

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Filipino Catholics of Arlington Support Students in Need

By Chiqui Sanchez
Fil/Am Community Ministry, Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church

Through our community outreach program, one goal that the Fil/Am Catholic ministry of Our Lady of Good Counsel had been aiming for since its inception was to provide a Filipino student a college scholarship.  Always known to us was the fact that college costs for many of those living in poverty in the Philippines has always been extremely out of reach.  For just a few hundred US dollars a year, we knew we could provide the opportunity for some of our impoverished youth in the Philippines to access a college education.

 

In our continuous search on how this can be achieved, we finally got the opportunity. In March 2016, YSLEP (Youth Servant Leadership and Education Program) through Caritas Manila, was introduced to us by Rev Father Patrick Posey, Pastor at St. James Parish in Falls Church, Virginia who travels to different parts of the world on behalf of the Pontifical Mission Society, Mr. Mike Mele, a Catholic faithful who travels with Fr. Posey, and Ms. Corinne Monogue, Director of the Offices of Multicultural Ministries in the Diocese of Arlington. The three of them traveled to the Philippines in February 2016 and saw for themselves, firsthand, what Caritas Manila and YSLEP were all about. The Fil/Am Community Ministry based at Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) parish invited them to make a presentation to us about YSLEP and Caritas Manila, and as we were informed, they made the presentation to us much in the same way as Caritas Manila presented the program to them when they were in the Philippines.

The program was presented to us far beyond our expectations and we from the Fil/Am Community Ministry were convinced that the scholarship of an impoverished student through YSLEP / Caritas Manila was an initiative that we could take on as one of our advocacies. In faith, we further believed that the Holy Spirit led us to these three individuals for guidance in reinforcing and firming up our intent to take on a scholarship program that has long been in our plans. Our meeting with them concretized our long-time goal to be able to support students in the Philippines.

At this time, we turned to Caritas Manila to break the ground for us and get us to a running start to achieve our goal. Caritas, in turn, obliged us with the logistics on how we could initiate the sponsorship, one student at a time: Caritas gave us what we needed to know, what we needed to do, what information we needed to provide them, and what the entire program entailed that we should know about.

Through our contact with Caritas Manila, our OLGC-based Fil/Am Community Ministry launched our scholarship program in June 2016. Leobert Francisco from Basilan, Isabela in the southern part of the Philippines became our first YSLEP scholar. Leobert belongs to a family whose only source of income is from his father who works as a laborer and an Aunt living with them who is a local market vendor. Leobert has a younger sister who is not yet of school age. Leobert was in his 2nd year of studies in Education at the Claret College when we started supporting him, and we will see him through until he gets his degree in 2019. He hopes to get a job as a secondary school teacher upon his graduation from college.

In 2017, we got a second scholar. Claudine Diaton from the Ifugao region in the northern part of the Philippines belongs to a family comprised of her father who is a rice farmer, her mother, a housekeeper, an older brother who works as a security guard and a sister struggling through her first year in college. Claudine was a rising junior in the Ifugao State University majoring in Agriculture, when we started supporting her. She is expected to finish her Bachelor’s Degree in June 2018, and hopefully, she will find a job after graduation, to help support her family. The Fil/Am Community Ministry will be in a position this coming June to get another scholar through Caritas Manila. We have been in contact with Caritas Manila to give us a list of at least 3 students pursuing a career in Education to choose from. We very much look forward to meet our 3rd scholar.

With our fundraising initiatives that we continue to pursue, with the unfailing moral and spiritual support from our Pastor and staff at OLGC, and the untiring effort from the members of our ministry, God willing, we will be able to sponsor more students who are in need through Caritas Manila. We feel blessed that we have been given this golden opportunity to serve and we are deeply grateful that we are able to make a difference in the lives of some of our own.

Holy Family Catholic Church Celebrates Black History

By Emelda August

Our Black History Mass and Potluck Dinner on Saturday, February 24 was a big success. Deacon Gerard-Marie Anthony got a big “Holy Family-welcome-back-home” with a large congregation present for the Mass. Father Bill was in attendance also, for his first Black History Program as our new Priest.

Comments after the service were all very positive stating, “He gave a wonderful homily” and “He did a great job explaining and sharing the great accomplishments of three African Americans into the readings and Gospel.” He highlighted the life and contributions of Servants of God Mother Mary Lange, Rev. Augustine Tolton, and Venerable Pierre Toussaint. They all sacrificed a lot while always obeying God and continuing to do good work. They all made a big impact on the Black community and Church.

St. Joseph’s Gospel Choir supplied beautiful music for the Mass and was enjoyed by all.

After Mass, we held our Annual Potluck Dinner in Fr. Griffin Hall. Deacon Anthony got a chance to meet and greet fellow parishioners who had a chance to talk and share dinner together.

Those in attendance were also able to learn about the Mother of Africa Chapel, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with a poster that showcased pictures and interesting facts and articles about the significance of all the design elements. 

Praying for Vocations with the St. Therese Society

By Rose Mensah

St. Therese Vocation Society of the Diocese of Arlington held their annual Morning of Reflection to which all were invited, on Saturday February 3, 2018, at St Luke Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia.  About ten members of St Therese’s Society of the Ghana Catholic Community attended the program.

 

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The program started with a nine o’clock morning Mass celebrated by Fr. Anthony Pinizzotto of St. Luke’s parish of McLean, Virginia.  Rev. Fr. Jaffe, Director of Vocations for the Diocese was also in attendance. After Mass, Fr. Jaffe welcomed the attendees, and thanked them for their prayers. A continental breakfast of assorted baked goods, fruits and drinks were served.

The speaker of the conference, Fr.  Anthony Pinizzotto, talked about the importance of prayer, and that prayer should take us out of ourselves in order to serve others.  In his power point presentation, he suggested some ways of promoting vocations in our schools, parishes and in our communities.  Some suggestions were talking to the young kids about vocations during Religious Education Classes and giving encouragement. Also praying for those who are already priests, letting them know that you are praying for them; writing to them, letting them know how you appreciate them bringing us the Sacraments to nourish us and sustain us.

The conference ended with Holy Hour, but before the Holy Hour, St. Therese Society group from the Ghana Community of the Diocese prepared the attendees with songs of praise.

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St. Therese Society of the Ghana Community of Arlington Diocese is going to take action on two things in Fr. Pinizzotto’s presentation: to pray each day for the person listed on the calendar, including the spiritual director of our community, and for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.  Secondly, the group is going to adopt a seminary in Ghana, and get the youth and children of the community to adopt a seminarian from that seminary and correspond with the seminarian.  The group is going to fund the correspondence project.

Prayer for Vocations

God our Father, through the Immaculate
Heart of Mary, I ask You to bless and
Strengthen the spiritual renewal and vitality
Of all priests, and consecrated religious so
That Your Church may shine with greater
Splendor and bear witness to Your presence
In our world today.  Please inspire many men
And women to respond to Your Son’s call to “Come, follow Me”.
I ask this in Jesus’ Name.

Amen

 

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Black Catholic Day of Reflection and Unity Mass

One highlight of Black Catholic History Month came during the Annual Day of Reflection and Unity Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Vienna, Virginia on November 18, 2017.

The Day of Reflection began with reflections on the experiences had by those who attended the National Black Catholic Congress XII. Next, Msgr. Ray East, Archdiocese of Washington gave the keynote address on missionary discipleship. Bishop Michael Burbidge, Diocese of Arlington, presented the Father Augustus Tolton and Mother Mary Lange award to this year’s recipient, Cecilia Braveboy. Prior to the Mass, there was a Praise and Worship session featuring Gospel hymns such as “Break Every Chain” by Will Reagan, and “I Give Myself Away” by William McDowell. Mass began at 5:00 p.m. and was celebrated by Bishop Roy E. Campbell, Jr, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington. Bishop Campbell was also the homilist. After the Mass a reception was held where everyone enjoyed great food and company.

Take a look at the great pictures taken at the Day of Reflection!

Photos Courtesy of Anthony Johnson

Celebrating Black Catholic History Month

Every November, Black Catholic History Month in celebrated across the nation. The Diocese of Arlington, through the Black Catholic Ministry, makes a special effort to recognize and celebrate this month. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, St. Jude Catholic Church honors the month annually with a special Mass celebration. Said Belinda Mattos, who helped organize this year’s celebration:

The Mass went extremely well. We had a great turnout and everyone loved the Ghanaian choir…

On Saturday, November 4, St. Jude Catholic Church in Fredericksburg held its 5th annual commemoration of Black Catholic History Month during the 5:00 pm vigil Mass. Deacon Al Anderson, of St Joseph Catholic Church-Alexandria, assisted the celebrant and St. Jude pastor, Father James Hudgins, and served as the homilist. Deacon Anderson gave a powerful homily carrying the message of humility from the readings and the gospel. The congregation was invited to a reception and Black Catholic History displays after the Mass. St. Jude Catholic Church holds this commemoration at the 5:00pm vigil Mass on the first Saturday of November each year.

Photos Courtesy of Phyllis Johnson

The Challenge is to Silence the Mind

By Deacon Al Anderson, Jr. & Ed Jones

We recently attended the 14th annual National Black Catholic Men’s Conference, held in Miami, FL October 5th – 8th. The conference is presented each year by the Bowman Francis Ministry Project, under the leadership of three Society of Divine Word (SVD) priests: twins Reverend Charles and Chester Smith SVD, and Reverend Rev Ken Hamilton SVD

In answer to the question” Why a Black Catholic Men’s Conference?” the brochure states “We are committed Black men, principally Catholic, who recognize our need for God’s help! We gather in Christ’s presence in an atmosphere of trust, equality and anonymity, to share personal feelings and experiences. We unconditionally accept one another and prayerfully support one another. We feel encouraged by the Holy Spirit to share with one another….. Men to Men!”

The theme of this year’s gathering was “The Challenge is to Silence the Mind”. The goal was to provide a holistic and healthy approach to rid ourselves of the negative “noise” (i.e. self-doubt, low self-esteem, rage, etc.) that inhibits us from successfully contending with the psychological and spiritual warfare that many African American men and boys face in today’s society; to provide tools for effectively dealing with pervasive violence, drugs and mass incarceration.

Fr. Sydney Speaks gave very powerful reflection titled “Authority is in the Air”, at the opening session on Thursday evening. He reminded us that true authority comes only from God and those in positions of authority should use it with a servant’s mentality; glorifying God, rather than themselves. Fr. Sydney also exhorted us to not shy away from the authority that we have been given but to eagerly embrace it; while constantly praying for God’s wisdom and seeking the counsel of our brothers and sisters. He has a very active youth ministry and was the primary speaker at the various youth tracts that were presented at the conference.

Fr. Sydney Speaks

Fr. Sydney Speaks

Each day began with Praise and Worship, led by the dynamic Gospel music group Men in the Fire. Afterwards, there were many excellent workshops and keynote addresses on a wide range of topics including: “The History of Black Catholicism”, by Fr. George Kinitba; “Urban Education in the Black Community” by Dr. Donald Edwards, Ed.D; “All Green/and No Black-Environmental Activism is Social Justice Activism” by Dr. Griena Knight-Davis, LPC; and many, many more (Too many to list here)!

We attended several very good workshops. One that particularly impressed me was titled “The Stigma Associated with African American Male Incarceration” by Dr. Wylie Tidwell, PhD. Dr. Tidwell outlined several root causes, historical and current, of Mass Incarceration in the African American community:

  • Reconstruction after slavery – the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery except as punishment for a crime. Reconstruction also gave birth to Jim Crow laws.
  • Lack of Civic Participation – Placing of barriers, such as gerrymandering, designed to exclude Black folks from participation in the political process.
  • Breakdown of Black Families and Communities
  • Deformation of the Black Church and the rise of impersonal / cold mega churches.

The workshop “Where are all the Black Men”, presented by Msgr. Fredrico Britto addressed concerns faced by many churches regarding male absence from the congregation and church activities.  The presenter stated that the average Black Church is made up of 75% female and 75% elders, which posed the question, “what happened to them?” This spawned a lively and interesting open discussion on possible reasons that may have brought about the lack of participation.  The suggested list of reasons was endless but very insightful and enlightening.   Some suggested approaches to getting them back involved included:

  • Men need to hear other men witness to them about the goodness of Jesus
  • Have men to men support groups that include prayer, Bible study, Men’s Day Program and service to the church
  • Ask them for their help (using their professional skills)
  • Mentoring program, Rites of Passage program

The closing Mass for the Conference was held on Saturday evening at the Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in the heart of Miami’s “Little Haiti”. Bishop Burchell McPherson, a former pastor of the parish (for 18 yrs.) was the celebrant for the Mass. Concelebrating were many African American and African priest from around the country. Fr. Stephen Brown, SVD gave a rousing homily on the conference theme of “The Challenge is to Silence the Mind”. Men in the Fire provided the music ministry for the Mass. The conference ended on Sunday morning with a Healing and Commissioning Service led by Fr. Hamilton.

We have attended several of these conferences in the past and have always come back renewed and refreshed in the Spirit and given much information and counsel on how to better serve my own diaconal ministry. We look forward to next year!