By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
More than 500 Catholics from 10 dioceses across the country gathered at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville for the Interregional African American Catholic Evangelization Conference (IAACEC) June 10-12.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who celebrated the opening Mass June 10, called the gathering a “great blessing” and thanked those in attendance for their “commitment to the church and the announcement of Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Kurtz touched on the conference’s theme — “You Are My Witness” — and discussed the importance of leadership in the Gospel’s call to evangelize.
“We’re not going to evangelize unless we call forth and support leaders,” he said.
The conference provides a way for black Catholics to support each other, especially, he noted, “those who are on the edge” looking for their place in the world and wondering if they are being called.
The archbishop called on his listeners to cultivate the spirit of a “servant leader” who “feels chosen” and to feel their job is to witness to their encounter with Jesus.
Gatherings such as the IAACEC are important because they serve as a source of strength for the faithful, Archbishop Kurtz told participants.
“On our own we can’t do it,” said the archbishop. “We’re weak. We’re tempted to give up.”
The IAACEC, organized this year by the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Multicultural Ministry, has been held 10 times since it began in the early 1990s.
Carrie Stivers, a member of St. Monica Church in Bardstown, Ky., who attended this year’s conference, said she drew strength from the gathering and others like it in the past.
The sense of togetherness she feels at the event is “inspiring” and stays with her long after the event is over, she said.
“Seeing all the black Catholics who share my belief makes me feel like I can keep going,” she said. “They inspire me to stay in the church.”
Stivers said she attended the first IAACEC and that the conference has been a part of her faith journey since. She said she always returns to her parish “on fire” and inspired to share her experience.
Dr. Eliza Young, a member of Christ the King Church, said the advantage of attending the event is the “support, love and insight” she receives from Catholics from different regions of the country. “It’s good for us to interact, to share opinions and ideas in order for us to grow,” said Young.
The event is also about renewal, she noted. “It renews my spirit, it renews my faith and it renews my insights into the Catholic Church,” said Young, following the opening Mass.
“Look at all the young people,” she said, pointing to a group of youth rehearsing for a dance performance. “I’m excited by the number of young people who are here. It lets us know our future is bright.”
Young noted that she was also encouraged to see people of other races at the conference. It meant, she said, that “we’re working together.”
M. Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry and one of the founders of the IAACEC, said the gathering “is a boost for the people as they anticipate the National Black Catholic Congress,” set for July 2016.
“It helps to keep the fire burning in such a way that people will want to go out and share with others about their relationship with Christ,” she said.
The IAACEC is important, said Turner, because it “provides an opportunity for people to look at their role of spreading the Good News and reexamining their relationship with Jesus.”
This could only bode well for the future of the Church, considering the present “perception of declining membership” and closure of parishes, said Turner said.
The conference brought Catholics from the Archdiocese of Louisville together with those from the Diocese of Lexington, Ky.; the Diocese of Miami, Fla.; the Archdiocese of Baltimore; the Archdiocese of Richmond, Va., the Archdiocese of Cleveland, Ohio; the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio; the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio; the Diocese of Jackson, Miss.; and the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn.
In addition to Archbishop Kurtz, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington attended, as did Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson, Miss.
The conference included more than 40 workshops, including “We Can Build if You Know How to Give,” “Becoming an Inviting and Welcoming Church,” “Apologetic without Apologies” and “How to Reach Inactive Black Catholics.” Kuumba Camp for youth and young adults was a new addition to the conference this year.