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Diocese Present at Two National Conferences

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Approximately 2,200 people, including 35 from the Diocese of Raleigh, attended the National Black Catholic Congress XI in Indianapolis the week of July 16, 2012. The Diocesan delegation was led by Father Marcos Leon, Diocesan Vicar for African Ancestry Ministry.

"Faith Engaged: Empower, Equip, Evangelize" was the theme of the 2012 Congress, which focused on the discussion and approval of a pastoral plan for black Catholics as its main task.

Among the presentations was an in-depth look at a recent extensive survey conducted by two professors at Notre Dame University that showed black Catholics are more engaged in their faith than their white counterparts. Donald Pope-Davis, one of the researchers, told the gathering, “Black Catholics have a history of using religious expression as a social and cultural way in which we engage in the community," he said.  "For many of us, going to Mass, participating in the sacraments and engaging in the life of the parish is also a social opportunity. This is an important finding because for us our faith is not just a religious conviction. It is also a cultural nuance that helps us think of the world in a particular way."

Father Leon said the importance of black Catholic identity is a message he wishes to spread throughout the Diocese of Raleigh. It is an undertaking that his office has begun. Father Leon added, “We are blessed to have the support of Bishop Burbidge in this initiative.” 

Departing Indianapolis, Father Leon traveled to attend the Tekakwitha Conference, an annual gathering of Native American Catholics. This year’s event took place in Albany, New York, birthplace of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. In 2009, the conference was held in Raleigh in 2009. Father Leon was joined by five parishioners from St. Mary Mother of the Church in Garner, Diocesan seminarian Ian Van Heusen and incoming seminarian Erik Reyes.

The primary focus of this year’s conference was on Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who is scheduled to be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in October.

Blessed Kateri was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk Turtle Clan war chief father in 1656. When she was 4, her parents died from a smallpox epidemic, which left her with vision loss and pockmarks. She was raised by her anti-Christian uncle and began studying Catholicism in private at the age of 18. After she was baptized at the age of 20 in Fonda, her family and village ostracized and ridiculed her -- she even received death threats.

Fleeing to a Christian village in Canada in 1677, she lead a life of prayer, intense penitential practices, love for the Eucharist and devotion to chastity. She taught prayers to children, worked with the sick and elderly and attended Mass several times a day.

Father Leon explained, "It was important to be at this special conference, especially to affirm our Native American brothers and sisters."

There are 600,000 Native American Catholics in the United States. The Diocese of Raleigh has Native Americans registered at 34 parishes with an estimated 900 residing in the Diocese.  “As we approach the worldwide celebration of the Year of Faith beginning this October,” Father Leon said, “I believe the canonization of Blessed Kateri was inspired by God to further show the oneness of the Catholic Church.”

Above: Father Marcos Leon, Diocesan Vicar for Hispanic Ministry; Sr. Kateri Mitchell, Executive Director of the Tekakwitha Conference and Bishop Martin Holley, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, DC, attending the annual conference of Native American Catholics. CNS photo/Glenn Davenport (Click photo to view larger.)

Above: Katie, Chris & Meghan Keffer of Garner, incoming Diocesan seminarian Erik Reyes, and African Ancestry Ministry Director Lauren Green at Blessed Kateri Shrine in Fonda, NY.(Click photo to view larger.)

Above: Diocese of Raleigh delegation to the National Black Catholic Conference held in Indianapolis. (Click photo to view larger.)