Interfamilial African-American Apostolate Meets in Wisconsin

Neil O’Connell, OFM Friar News

The piece below was submitted by a member of the Province’s African Ancestry Committee, formerly the African-American Ministry Committee, one of 12 HNP committees focusing on aspects of Franciscan life and ministry. HNP Today welcomes contributions from Provincial committees and directorates.

BURLINGTON, Wis. — Last month, I attended the fall meeting of the Inter-Familial OFM (previously Provincial) African-American Apostolate at the new OFM Interprovincial Novitiate, where we reviewed the group’s purpose and plans and discussed common concerns.

Our discussion at the Sept. 20 to 22 meeting started by determining whether the focus should be restricted to only ministry with African-American parishes or include ministry with various areas of the African-American community.

The discussion finally determined that the purpose of the group was to include ministry with all areas of the African-American community, with the caveat that the wider purpose does not become an excuse to withdraw ministry from African-American parishes since these parishes can be a source of fostering African-American Franciscan vocations.

Concerns for Communities
The participants expressed a desire for provincial administrations to consult with those involved in ministry with the African-American community, particularly with provincial African-American ministry committees where these exist. For several meetings, the group has evolved an awareness that there is a special and deep relationship between African-American spirituality and Franciscan spirituality. Both feed one another. This was especially expressed at an impromptu meeting of over 90 laity engaged in Franciscan ministry at the 2010 Archbishop James Lyke Conference in Charleston, S.C., when all noted a very great and positive difference between Franciscan ministry with the African American community and that done by others.

There was a feeling that this was a decisive moment for Franciscan ministry. If Franciscan ministry allows its its engagement with the African-American community to erode, it will render Franciscan charism in the United States defective.

Attendees, after a few amendments, ratified the by-laws for the body. With this ratification, we then discussed the agenda that the chair, Fr. Ferd Cheri, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province, would bring to a hoped-for meeting with the OFM provincial ministers. The agenda emerged as follows: recognition of the organization as a formal OFM body, as evidenced in its by-laws; the body’s history, plans and future directions; the desire of the body to collaborate with the provincials in African-American ministry; a request for the provincials’ commitment to fostering African-American vocations; and establishment of a process for sharing pertinent African-American literature with the provincials. In the last case, at the meeting with the provincials, Fr. Ferd will provide each with a copy of Fr. Bryan Massingale’s recent book on the African-American Catholic Church. Fr. Massingale, an African-American theologian of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is on the theology faculty of Marquette University, and a recent president of the American Catholic Theological Society.

Plans for Summer
The meeting included discussion of some upcoming events for which the body wished to encourage Franciscan ministry attendance. Foremost among these events is the National Black Catholic Congress, held every four years, scheduled for July 19 to 22, 2012 in Indianapolis. The group is exploring the sponsorship of a display on Franciscan African-American ministry.

The spring meeting of the body will be at Holy Name College and Washington Theological Union. The Holy Name Province African Ancestry Committee is being asked to sponsor a “Go Down Moses” program for high school-aged and young adult Catholic men to deepen their Catholic faith and to explore vocations. Sacred Heart Province, under Fr. Ferd’s leadership, sponsored two very successful Go Down Moses programs in New Orleans and St. Louis.

While in Burlington, I had an opportunity to meet with the Holy Name Province novices John Aherne, OFM, Pedro Corces, OFM, and Jeffrey Upshaw, OFM, who shared their Franciscan journeys and conveyed that there is indeed something unique, in a positive sense, about Holy Name Province. Later in the evening, the novice master arranged for a meeting between the participants in the Inter-Familial meeting and the novices during which the participants shared their Franciscan African-American ministry journeys.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Just a few weeks before the apostolate meeting, Paul Williams, OFM, of the HNP African Ancestry Committee, visited the new Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Labor Day weekend.

Paul, the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Anderson, S.C, who grew up in Alexandria, Va., said: “I was struck by the simplicity of the memorial. We often read and hear, especially during this presidential election year, of what’s wrong with our country; this memorial spoke to me of those things that are right with America. Who would have thought that we would see an African-American president dedicating Dr. King’s Memorial on the National Mall in Washington?”

afam-rHe noted: “When I gazed upon the face of Dr. King rising from the Mountain of Despair, I was filled optimism, pride and with a sense of renewed responsibility to make this nation a place of hope, where dreams have the potential to be realized. We, as citizens of this nation, are challenged by Dr. King to look forward to that day when all of God’s children, regardless of artificial human made labels, will recognize that we are truly sisters and brothers with a common desire to live in peace and harmony with each other and with our planet that sustains us. I pray that Dr. King’s dreams for our nation be realized by all of us who dare say I am an American.”

— Fr. Neil is the Catholic campus minister at Manhattan Community College and at Herbert H. Lehman College in the Bronx. He also serves as adjunct professor of history at Lehman College.