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Black Catholics Gear Up for Upcoming Congress and Conference

Franciscan Father Agustino Torres, who ministers for his order in Brooklyn and is founder of the Hispanic youth ministry Corazon Puro, prays before delivering a keynote address at the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis Oct. 13, 2022. (Photo: CNS/Mike Krokos, The Criterion)

WASHINGTON — Marc Guess, a parishioner at St. Monica Catholic Church in Indianapolis, attended the first National Black Catholic Men’s Conference in Memphis 20 years ago. He has been to almost every one of the annual events since and plans to attend this year’s conference in October in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Guess, who is on the conference planning committee, said what inspires him every year is the communal aspect — the lasting friendships formed in days of prayer, listening, and discussion with other Black Catholic men from around the country. 

The event was renamed last year to the Father Chester P. Smith National Black Catholic Men’s Conference, after its co-founder, Divine Word Father Chester Smith, who died in 2020. 

The annual event — which paused for two years during the pandemic — is organized by the Bowman-Francis Ministry, an Indianapolis-based group named for two prominent Black Catholic leaders: Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman and the late Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Francis of Newark.

The group’s mission is to “spiritually recharge Afrocentric communities by renewing interest, commitment and devotions within the Roman Catholic Church,” according to its website.

More than 300 attended the three-day event last year for workshops, keynote speakers, Masses, and prayer. It is on a much smaller scale than the National Black Catholic Congress, which takes place every five years and draws a few thousand attendees. 

The congress, which had been postponed one year during the pandemic, will take place July 20-23 in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C.

A group from St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Marrero, Louisiana, including their pastor, Father Sidney Speaks, stand in front of St. Rita Catholic Church in Indianapolis in 2022 during the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference. (Photo: Courtesy of Bowman-Francis Ministry).

The smaller event, for Black Catholic men, is something Guess said provides an opportunity for men to “be their authentic selves” in seeking spiritual growth and recognizing their leadership roles in the Church and their families. The event, also offering programs for youths, is something fathers and sons do together, which he has done over the years.

Guess, who attended the National Black Catholic Congress when it was in Indianapolis in 2012, said he saw some familiar faces there from National Black Catholic Men’s Conference participants. 

Joseph Murray, an administrative assistant for the Vicariate for Black Catholic Concerns in the Diocese of Brooklyn, said he didn’t know if men from the diocese would be attending the October conference but said it was likely to draw some participants from parish Knights of St. Peter Claver groups.

The diocese is sending a busload to the National Black Catholic Congress, including delegates who will report back to the Vicariate for Black Catholic Concerns about their experience at the congress and ways the diocese can implement some of the key points that were raised there.

A key aspect of the congress is to come up with a national pastoral plan for Black Catholics in the U.S. In previous gatherings these plans have included: enabling Black Catholics to enhance their Afrocentric spirituality, increasing awareness of black saints, creating opportunities for lay leadership in the church, identifying and eradicating racism, and increasing prison ministry and outreach.

The plans have also emphasized the need to develop Afrocentric religious education programs, provide outreach to unchurched members of the community, create more sustainable Catholic schools, promote and support Black Catholic vocations, and ways to reach out to young Black Catholics.

Wendi Williams, executive director of the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the congress is “an important lay movement that helps ensure that the voices of the lay faithful are heard and acted upon.”

She told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, that the event is about “listening, dialogue, discernment, and journeying together.”

For more information on the Black Catholic Men’s Conference visit: 

For more information on the National Black Catholic Congress visit: