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Black Catholics speak up

Tell archdiocese what they want at Synod listening session at Holy Redeemer Church

Verna Pegues addresses Oblate Missionary Father John Cox, left, and Father Chanel Jeanty.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Verna Pegues addresses Oblate Missionary Father John Cox, left, and Father Chanel Jeanty.


A parishioner expresses his joys, concerns and dreams for the Church in South Florida to Oblate Missionary Father John Cox, right, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Liberty City, and Father Chanel Jeanty, archdiocesan chancellor for canonical affairs and pastor of St. Philip Neri in Miami Gardens.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

A parishioner expresses his joys, concerns and dreams for the Church in South Florida to Oblate Missionary Father John Cox, right, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Liberty City, and Father Chanel Jeanty, archdiocesan chancellor for canonical affairs and pastor of St. Philip Neri in Miami Gardens.

MIAMI — As a minority within a minority, black Catholics have suffered many hardships throughout their history. Most recently, in 2009, the historically black parishes of St. Francis Xavier in Overtown and St. Philip Neri in Miami Gardens closed their doors because of financial problems.

“I’m a black Catholic who has experienced the closing of two of our churches,” said one woman during a synod listening session at Holy Redeemer Parish in Liberty City. “We bring so much to the table. We are all God’s children and should rejoice in each other. Wealthy parishes should help support less fortunate parishes.”

Although St. Francis Xavier remains closed, St. Philip Neri reopened in 2011 with Father Chanel Jeanty as pastor. Both Father Jeanty — who also serves as archdiocesan chancellor for canonical affairs — and Oblate Missionary Father John Cox, Holy Redeemer’s pastor, were present for the parish listening session held Aug. 8. Sitting in for Archbishop Thomas Wenski, they listened to comments from parishioners of both predominantly black churches and others from other parts of the archdiocese.

More parish listening sessions are planned before the end of September to give more opportunities for Catholics who want to share their joys, concerns and dreams for the Church in Miami as part of the archdiocese’s second general Synod.

Another parishioner had a unique view on St. Francis Xavier Church.

Rosetta Rolle Hylton sings at the end of the Synod listening session.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Rosetta Rolle Hylton sings at the end of the Synod listening session.

“As a church that is more than 75 years old, St. Francis Xavier should have been designated by the City of Miami as a historic landmark,” said the parishioner. “If St. Francis Xavier closed, then all 75 year-old churches should be closed.”

Synod participants are asked to respond to three questions about the Archdiocese of Miami’s performance. What is the archdiocese doing well? What is the archdiocese not doing well, or what needs to be done differently? And what dreams do you have for the archdiocese?

Another parishioner said there needs to be more visibility for the many positive activities going on in the black Catholic community.

“Maybe we could have a large outdoor Mass to make ourselves visible to the surrounding neighborhood,” said Reginald Munnings, who was among 32 people from South Florida who attended the National Black Catholic Congress in Indianapolis last month. The three-day event takes place every five years to discuss the challenges and accomplishments that face black Catholics in society and the Church. The congress is filled with workshops, general seminars, networking and Masses.

A 2011 survey sponsored by Notre Dame University and the National Black Catholic Congress indicated that black Catholics are highly involved in their church. They would like more emphasis on black saints, promoting black leaders, targeting black vocations, supporting affirmative action, calling attention to problems in Africa and promoting racial inclusiveness.

“I think the Church needs to get more involved in what’s happening in the black community, such as crime and a lack of jobs,” said another man. “And, instead of closing black Catholic schools, the archdiocese needs to provide a Catholic education for black Catholic youths.”

Verna Pegues said she dreamed of people from different religions and cultures coming together more often. “We should work in uniting the diverse cultures,” she said.

Most African Americans are Protestant, mainly Baptists, and black Catholics account for a small percentage of American Catholics: 3 million out of 78 million.

“When I made the sign of the cross at a restaurant a friend of mine remarked that she thought I was Christian,” said another woman at the synod. “I told her that Catholics are Christian. I guess she thought I was Protestant.”

Other issues included getting young people more involved in the Church and reopening the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

“As a young man, I feel ignored,” said one young man. “Open the doors to youth and to music ministry.”

Father Cox said he was happy at the turnout of about 50 people for the listening session. “This is a very heartfelt sign of people’s commitment to the Church,” he said.

Father Jeanty said the session went very well. “You have to admire the courage of the people who came to the microphone to speak,” he said.

Comments from readers

William VanderWyden - 08/15/2012 10:14 PM
The closing of several churches in the Archdiocese was shocking news. There was no effort made to ask the rest of the Catholic community to step up and help support those communities who may have been unable to support themselves fully. I was happy to hear of St. Phillip Neri being reinstated as a parish. St. Francis should have been supported at all costs in order to maintain that beam of Catholic presence in Overtown. It's not too late to make this happen!
Juan - 08/14/2012 09:46 AM
As a young, male, black hispanic, I echo the sentiments expressed above in terms of reopening the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. As a volunteer, I assisted in a basketball tournament and felt that the Youth benefitted by our presence. If funding is an issue, I and others like me would contribute our Time, Talents and Treasure to this cause. Thank you.

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