Friday, November 20, 2020
Tom Tracy - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | The COVID-19 pandemic has been yet another burden for Miami-Dade County’s historic Black Catholic community, an aging congregation once centered in Overtown and Liberty City but increasingly dispersed.
“Our people try (to come to church) but we are maybe 80 or 90 percent seniors — even without the COVID-19 it is difficult for some of them to keep up,” said Father Alexander Ekechukwu, Holy Redeemer's pastor and a member of the Holy Spirit Fathers religious community. He is a native of Nigeria.
“A good number of our parishioners now live in Miami Gardens and North Miami and they drive from these other places to come to church here,” he said, adding that attendance levels have not returned to the Sunday Mass numbers before the pandemic.
In addition, elderly persons and those with pre-existing health conditions who are fearful of the COVID-19 virus have been advised to exercise an abundance of caution and practice social distancing until the pandemic wanes.
As a result, Holy Redeemer, now the oldest black Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Miami, has been trying to better serve its members through social media and a Sunday online broadcast of the Mass for shut-ins and homebound.
“First of all, during the (pandemic) lockdown I used to call everybody in their homes, and when we re-opened I made sure those who didn't come to church were mailed the bulletins by post or by email,” Father Ekechukwu said.
“When we restarted, the attendance at morning Mass was very poor but it has increased — but still our church is not catching up fast as some other parishes. You can understand the background since our parish is predominantly made up of seniors and we have very few young people. They are much more afraid to come.”
The Liberty City and Overtown area is today a mix of African Americans, Haitians, Latinos and other Caribbean nationalities. Holy Redeemer was founded in 1950, predominantly by Catholics from the Bahamas. But increasingly, the area is served by evangelical and Baptist churches, a fact that led to the closing years ago of the Catholic elementary schools at Holy Redeemer and St. Francis Xavier in Overtown, the oldest historically Black Catholic Church in Miami, which also closed.
“I go to some shut-ins personally and then give them holy Communion — including those who were in poor health before the pandemic — and sometimes to give them the sacrament of anointing,” the priest said, adding that Holy Redeemer has not lost any members to COVID-19 as far as he knows.
A Catholic Charities of Miami Head Start and Early Head Start program based at Holy Redeemer continues to serve area low-income families. The parish is also an active part of the regional chapter of PACT (People Acting for Community Together), a network of concerned citizens promoting social and economic justice through various activities.
PACT trains grassroots leaders to build the power of organized people and change their communities, according to its website. Through local workshops and regional/national trainings, grassroots leaders develop a number of skills: hosting listening sessions, building networks, research, negotiating with decision-makers, conducting public meetings, and fundraising, the website notes.
“We try to sit together and look at the community, the county and what areas of concern we have, whether it is schools suspension, violence, housing, homelessness — we think about these issues and bring it to a central PACT meeting and each year we select an item to address that issue,” Father Ekechukwu said.