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NBCC Special Report

Getting Ready for Congress XI
(July 19-22, 2012) - Indianapolis, Indiana


Valerie WashingtonBishop John Ricard describes our Church as hemorraghing with exiting Catholics. The Church hasn't figured out why people leave or why others stay. Particularly for the Black Catholic community in the United States, we simply lack data. The Gallup Poll of Catholics in 2005 (the most recent poll of Catholics available from the Association of Religion Data Archives) had only 27 African American Catholics in its sample-not enabling any statistically meaningful conclusions about our community's views, concerns, or demographics.

The Board of NBCC has decided to take the lead on this matter and find out what parishes can do to engage African Americans in parish life.

The board has approved a project to carry out an unprecedented empirical study of Black Catholics in the United States with the goal of finding out: What do we need to do to keep folks engaged in the Catholic Church? We want to identify the reasons people leave the Church and the reasons they stay. Our goal is to have the results of the survey in hand by late 2011, so that the findings can guide Congress XI programming, speakers, and the pastoral plan of action.


Congress XI: Celebrating 25 years "What We Have Seen and Heard"

Congress XI is in 2012, but the NBCC staff and our hosts in Indianapolis have been planning for months. NBCC staff handles contracts with facilities and vendors and works with a national planning team to develop the overall program--theme, speakers, schedule, etc. In Indianapolis, Father Kenneth Taylor, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, chairs the Local Leadership Team, which incorporates the heads of sixteen on-site teams who plan and coordinate everything from liturgy to transportation, entertainment, and emergency services. A great deal of this work will take place during 2011.


Two or three times during the five-year interim between congresses, NBCC surveys diocesan offices to assess progress and challenges in the implementation of the Pastoral Plan of Action from the prior congress. In last year's report, we provided data on the first survey regarding the current plan. NBCC's staff analyzed those findings and reviewed all of the written comments. The NBCC's board then discussed the results at great length. From that discussion, it was clear that we need to finetune our goals for plans of actioin, but we did not reach conclusions about what that finetuning would look like.

The Congress Movement has evolved and must do so. The processes we used to develop an action plan for the first modern congress, in 1987 (before e-mail, the Internet, or social networking changed the ways we work and communicate), are not necessarily the best ones for today. The Congress X Plan was created through a long deliberative process in which eight commissions of expert volunteers, from around the country, used an Appreciative Inquiry process to discern a set of strategies and action steps for moving forward on eight core NBCC principles. This comprehensive process resulted in a plan that was carefully crafted, but perhaps too ambitious and wide-ranging, particularly in a time of tight budgets.


  1. Send a "Save the Date" message to your mailing list -- July 19-22, 2012.
  2. Promote the congress and date on your web page and/or Facebook page
  3. At budget time for 2012, budget for a Day of Reflection in early spring and for Black Catholic Ministry staff and teams to travel to Indianapolis in July.
  4. Meet with youth ministers to discuss long-term build-up to Congress, including fundraising for youth to travel to Indianapolis.
  5. Strategize how to engage young adults to make them aware of Congress XI. Find out what speakers, topics, or events might motivate them to attend and pass suggestions on to the congress Planning Committee in Baltimore.
  6. Schedule date and place for a Day of Reflection in Winter or Spring 2012 and get it on the diocesan calendar.
  7. Consider forming a Congress XI team for your diocese that will help your office with the work of promoting Congress attendance at parish or youth events, raising money if needed, organizing a Day of Reflection, etc.
  8. Schedule periodic Holy Hours, prayer services, or Rosaries for the intention of Congress XI. Pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance for the planning teams.
  9. Notify NBCC of any special talents in your diocese that the planning committee might want to consider for the program (evening entertainment; spectacular youth speakers; artists; etc.).
  10. Think about your experience working to implement past Pastoral Plans of Action in your diocese. What are the characteristics of a usable, helpful Plan? Send me suggestions about action plans or about topics and workshops you would like to see at Congress XI. Write to:

Vocations Symposium


While the Black Catholic movement has always esteemed the full participation and leadership of laity and religious sisters, there is no escaping the fact that Catholicism (including our Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation) require priests-and our Church is not ordaining sufficient numbers to sustain herself. Vocations are not peripheral to the NBCC's mission. The shortage of vocations to the priesthood is a primary cause of the painful parish closures and mergers that so many Black Catholics have experienced.

The Catholic Church needs more vocations from all demographic groups and every corner of the globe, yet the NBCC recognizes a special need for the pastoral leadership of ordained men who are attuned to the culture, norms, language, and issues of African American life and of the Church in the USA. This was the focus of the "Stir into Flame" symposium.


After more than a year of planning, the "Stir into Flame" vocations symposium took place in early May, 2010 on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Seven bishops participated, including NBCC board president John H. Ricard SSJ, and twenty priests and a permanent deacon. One panel provided the perspective of students and a parent. The priests included a mix of younger and older, diocesan and religious, pastors and educators. We enjoyed strong support from Notre Dame's Institute for Church Life, assistance from graduate students in theology, and hands-on involvement by the university's Associate Provost and Vice President, Dr. Don Pope-Davis.


The current Black Catholic Newsletter (on the homepage) includes several articles in which participants describe the event and its impact on them. I invite you to take a look.

The symposium concluded with assignments for all. Three committees, each led by a young priest, are working this summer to detail action steps to support vocations in the family, educational, and community environments. Participants will reconvene at the University of Notre Dame next May to assess progress and chart future steps.

Catholic Education

The Congress X Pastoral Plan of Action calls for the NBCC to create a "National Support Initiative to provide financial assistance to efforts that will produce favorable results in sustaining Catholic Education in and for the Black Community."

I am happy to report progress on this goal. In June 2010, the NBCC Board approved establishiment of the NBCC Catholic Education Foundation LLC and appointed a board of directors for the foundation, chaired by Kathleen A. Merritt.



  • NBCC is now on FaceBook.
  • The Black Catholic Newsletter comes out every other month. It is sent by electronic mail to over 6,000 subscribers and also appears as the front page of our website. The Newsletter includes calendars of events; news from NBCC; and notices of job or grant opportunities, but also articles by and for youth; articles on ministry and spirituality, and book reviews.


  • Start a discussion with colleagues or parishioners, by commenting on one of the articles and urging others to do so.
  • Share your best practices, inspirations, or spiritual reflections with others, by writing an article for the Newsletter. (Contact me to volunteer yourself or to nominate someone else or to suggest a book to review or a topic to cover.)
  • Encourage your parishioners and members to subscribe to the Newsletter (it's free), in order to connect with the national community of African American Catholics.
  • Send news of forthcoming regional or national events (well in advance) to me for posting on the website.



Over the years, our surveys of Black Catholic Ministry offices have yielded requests for resources and supports to facilitate ministries at the diocesan and parish levels. With travel budgets cut dramatically, most church staff cannot afford to travel to training conferences. So after several months of exploratory work to guage needs and interests, the NBCC embarked this year on a new program, offering our inaugural webinar on May 18, 2010.

Webinars have the potential to provide convenient and affordable seminars about resources and best practices in Black Catholic ministry. We hope too that this tool can be a way for people around the country who share interest in a particular facet of ministry to learn together from an experienced instructor, and then to continue the "conversation" through our on-line NBCC discussion forums or our Facebook page.


The next Webinar will be later this fall, on the subject of Adult Faith Formation. Subsequent topics under consideration include: Prison Ministry, Grant-Writing, and-in line with Bishop Holley's concerns--something for youth and young adult ministry about how to discuss Church teaching on marriage and contraception.

NBCC welcomes suggestions for topics and for webinar instructors who are expert both in their field of ministry and their presentation skills. (Presentation in a live webinar is an acquired skill and some exceptional teachers and homilists are not necessarily comfortable or effective with this medium, so audition and rehearsal are necessary.)

African American Catholic Youth Bible

NBCC is working with St. Mary's Press, publisher of the popular Catholic Youth Bible to develop an African American Catholic Youth Bible. The project starts with the annotated New American Bible approved by the USCCB and then adds text boxes directed to African American youth to answer questions, put the scripture text in the context of their lives, explain the connections between the text and Catholicism, and link the text to African American heritage. We expect this Bible to become a lasting resource for parishes, high schools, and campus ministry programs and its artwork to provide a recognized new iconography for our community.

A team of writers (some scholars; some youth ministers) began working more than a year ago to write the new commentaries for every book of the Bible. An artist has been chosen to develop original illustrations and a fresh graphic design. The project editor is a distinguished Scripture scholar, Reverend James Chukwuma Okoye, C.S.Sp., a faculty member at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Target date for publication is March 2013.

Final Message

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The NBCC staff wishes to extend sincere and heartfelt gratitude to the authors who have submitted articles for our online black Catholic newsletter during this year. We appreciate the sacrifice, love and time you put into developing these articles for our web site viewers. We thank you and we appreciate you! You are truly laborers in the vineyard for our Lord.

And to our web site viewers, thank you for reading our newsletter. We pray for God's abundant blessings for you and your family during the holy Christmas season; and we look forward to a wonderful spirit-filled life in the Lord in 2011 for all of us!

Merry Christmas!

Sincerely yours,
Valerie E.Washington

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