WASHINGTON — Last month, when more than two dozen black Catholic men gathered in the nation’s capital for a retreat, they did more than accomplish the organizers’ goal of providing a venue for prayer and discussion. They also demonstrated the value of collaboration.
The “Go Down Moses” retreat, held Dec. 27 to 30, was organized by the HNP African Ancestry Committee to accomplish several objectives. According to Gerald Hopeck, OFM, its purpose was for men of African descent between the ages of 20 and 40 to:
• Better understand their history
• Understand their history and place as young Catholic men
• Understand how their spirituality is a key contribution of African ancestry culture to the Catholic Church
“It was a success,” said Gerald, who planned the event with Fr. Ferd Cheri, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province, shown in center in photo above.
The retreat, held at the Josephite Seminary, was “a great effort of interprovincial collaboration,” Gerald said. “I’m pleased that we had a variety of religious communities participating. We really saw what can be done when people join together.”
Collaborative and Enriching
The retreat, described by Fr. Ferd as “enriching,” attracted 31 participants, a mix of young black men, presenters and local black seminarians. Gerald, the assistant principal of St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, Md., said the attendees were from a variety of geographic areas such as Florida, Ohio, South Carolina and the state of Washington. Along with Ferd, the presenters were Fr. Benedict Kelly, and Fr. Joseph Brown, SJ.
“It was a great experience of people with the same passion working together,” said Gerald.
“I was delighted by the turnout,” said Paul Williams, OFM, of the HNP African Ancestry Committee. “It gave the participants a chance to see that the Catholic Church is a very diverse faith.”
Gerald, a member of the Province’s African Ancestry Committee, and Fr. Ferd, who has run Go Down Moses retreats in the past, spent several months planning the event. It was the first time the Franciscans held a retreat for African Americans in the capital area. “It made sense, because there is so much history there,” said Gerald.
“The committee had been talking for a long time about holding an event like this,” Gerald said. “We were pleased at how the word got out and how we were able to recruit from a broad range of regions and communities. All of our publicity work paid off.
“To strengthen the impact of programs like this retreat, it is so important that we collaborate, not only between provinces, but among religious orders,” Gerald added.
During the three-day event, the participants listened to presentations, shared meals and prayers, and visited historic sites in Washington and Baltimore and, most importantly, according to Gerald, appreciated each other’s company.
The first day was focused on bonding, said Gerald. “We discussed how to disseminate the call of Moses. Throughout the three days, we often talked of how important doing ministry as a community is compared to working individually.
“The retreat planners tried to emphasize that there is a strong connection in Franciscan life to a brotherhood,” Gerald added.
Paul, who traveled north from Anderson, S.C., said the gathering was “a good venue for Holy Name Province friars to meet African American men who might be interested in Franciscan life.”
Many of the members of the HNP African Ancestry Committee attended the retreat. Though most did not have formal roles, Gerald said, “their presence was a blessing.
“Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, joined us for the dinner on the first night,” Gerald continued. He added that the other committee members who were part or all or some of the gathering were Provincial CouncilorJoseph Nangle, OFM, of Washington, D.C., and Benedict Taylor, OFM, and Neil O’Connell, OFM, of New York City.
The retreat’s agenda offered participants a chance to visit the Martin Luther King Memorial, as well as two historic churches. They visited St. Augustine’s, the oldest black Catholic church in Washington, and St. Francis Xavier Church, the oldest black Catholic church in Baltimore.
“The visit to the Dr. King memorial was very powerful,” Gerald said. “We took time to look at the quotes and to meditate on their meaning.”
He said he thinks the history tour was very beneficial. “The guys left knowing that their faith is standing on the shoulders of men and women who have suffered, but they had such deep faith that they didn’t care how much they struggled. To know our history is to know the God that’s never abandoned us.”
The African Ancestry Committee is planning to organize another Go Down Moses retreat, said David Hyman, OFM,committee chair.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.