A new pastoral plan for the U.S. Black Catholics has been released by the National Black Catholic Congress, following the gathering of more than 2,500 Catholics from 90 dioceses for the NBCC national gathering in summer 2023.
After each such event, held every five years, a pastoral plan is released that addresses the Congress theme and provides an action plan meant to cover the period until the next convening.
The NBCC released the latest pastoral plan on Feb. 5, roughly seven months after last year’s event, held in Maryland near the nation’s capital. The plan is titled after the 2023 Congress theme, “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive,” inspired by Habakkuk 2:2.
A ‘growth mindset’
For the first time in Congress history, the Baltim0re-based NBCC organization conducted a survey of participants and included its findings in the pastoral plan. The survey included laity, consecrated religious, and clergy. Of the Congress attendees, 627 completed the survey—representing about 25%. The majority of survey participants were laity (81%), women (70%), and aged 55 or older (84%).
When asked about the major issues facing the Black Catholic community in the United States, most Congress attendees were concerned about keeping youth and young adults in the church. In response to this, the pastoral plan asks Black Catholics to adopt a “growth mindset” that looks at the future of the church.
To do this, the faithful are encouraged to conduct a survey of their parish and/or diocese to determine the pastoral needs of their local church. Based on the findings, they are then to create a plan to better engage Black men, youth, and young adults.
In addition, Black Catholics need to reflect on their own call to holiness and how they are mentoring the next generation.
“Every one of us should be mentoring the next generation,” reads the pastoral plan. “Growth mindset is not just simply starting a youth group. It’s being very intentional about how, as you walk in the room, you talk about building back better.”
A faith-filled history
Understanding the history of Black Catholics in the United States is also an initiative in the new pastoral plan. Eleven pages of the plan tell the history of the NBCC since it originated in 1889. According to the organization, African Americans were the first Catholics in the U.S. to hold congresses. In the late 1800s, the Colored Catholic Congresses were held under the leadership of journalist Daniel Rudd, focusing heavily on biblical homilies and the Eucharist.
These gatherings included significant figures of Black Catholic history in the United States. From Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first Black priest in the United States, celebrating Mass at the third Congress in 1892, to Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, the first Black cardinal in the nation, celebrating Mass at Congress in 2023.
As expressed in the pastoral plan, “the story of the Black Catholic Congress movement bespeaks that folks in the past—infused by God’s spirit—took on personal responsibility to improve the quality of life for their people within the Catholic Church.”
The document encourages Black families to have essential historical books in their home libraries by Fr Cyprian Davis, OSB, including “The History of Black Catholics in the United States” as well as “Stamped in God’s Image: African Americans as God’s Image,” which he co-edited with Sr Jamie T. Phelps, OP.
Other action steps included in the pastoral plan are parish and diocesan reading circles to discuss Black Catholic history, planning pilgrimages to relevant historical sites, sharing personal experiences of Black Catholic life, and praying to and sharing information concerning African-American Catholics on the path to sainthood.
“When we will look back upon the past, we see that we can and we will build a good and strong future,” it reads.
‘Build back better’
To “make strong and rebuild,” the pastoral plan reflects on the Scripture inspiration for the 2023 congress, which in its entirety comprises Habakkuk 2:2-4.
“God called Habakkuk to move from alarmist to activist as prophets do,” the plan explains. The “call to prophecy” urges God’s people to rebuild and make strong our relationship with God, forming a vision to address situations of struggle and the community at large. Helpful strategies for this are said to be ongoing Bible study at every age level and faith formation leadership training that includes Black Catholic history and cultural values.
With the release of the latest pastoral plan, the NBCC is encouraging Black Catholics to “put on work gloves to get about the work of rebuilding.”
Diocesan groups are encouraged to pull together Congress participants and leaders among local Black Catholics to find ways to rebuild, create a vision to address their challenges, and discover ways to support the national Black Catholic community.
“This is the work of National Black Catholic Congress Pastoral Plan XIII as we journey to our future,” the document reads.
“Be encouraged, get to work. This is our time to move from Alarmist to Activist as Prophets do.”
Samantha Smith is a copy and content writer based in Atlanta. She worked for the Archdiocese of Atlanta for nearly a decade in various roles, including as a staff writer for The Georgia Bulletin, where she won numerous Catholic Press Awards for her writing and social media campaigns. Connect with Samantha by following her Catholic blog, Spirit and Sparkle, and her Twitter/X at @BeimaxCreates.