Black Catholic leaders, communities talk strategies for adopting 'growth mindset'

Vickie Figueroa, director of cultural ministries and coordinator of Black Catholic ministry for the Archdiocese of Detroit, leads a synodal discussion on the recently released pastoral plan, “Writing the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive,” published after the National Black Catholic Congress, which took place in April 2023 in National Harbor, Md. Local leaders and members of the Black Catholic community gathered May 8 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary to discuss strategies for adopting the national plan in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Photos by Gabriella Patti | Detroit Catholic)

Black Catholic parish, archdiocesan leaders discuss local implementation of National Black Catholic Congress pastoral plan

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DETROIT Nearly a year after attending the National Black Catholic Congress in National Harbor, Md., alongside nearly 2,500 Catholics from 90 dioceses, Black Catholic leaders and allies gathered in the Archdiocese of Detroit to discuss implementing a pastoral plan of action laid out at the congress.

The meeting, which took place May 8 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, was the first of several meant to localize the national pastoral plan and implement a strategy for the Black Catholic community of southeast Michigan. Several dozen gathered to hear from Vickie Figueroa, director of cultural ministries and coordinator of Black Catholic ministry for the archdiocese, and Fr. John McKenzie, a priest in solidum at Christ the King Parish and School in northwest Detroit, both of whom attended the congress, alongside other representatives from archdiocesan parishes.

“(This meeting) allows us to laser focus on our community to see what we want and what we can align with the archdiocese to make our communities grow,” Figueroa said.

The pastoral plan, released in February, nearly seven months after the congress, which takes place every five years, expands on the congress' theme, “Writing the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive.”

Congress participants were invited to fill out a survey about what they felt were the most critical issues in the Black Catholic community, Figueroa told Detroit Catholic. The pastoral plan included the findings from this survey, which included an overwhelming concern about keeping young people in the Church.

Fr. John McKenzie, a priest in solidum serving at Christ the King Parish and School in northwest Detroit, speaks to leaders and members of the Black Catholic community May 8 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary about the ways in which local Catholics can adopt an inclusive "growth mindset" while sharing Christ with those who need him most.
Fr. John McKenzie, a priest in solidum serving at Christ the King Parish and School in northwest Detroit, speaks to leaders and members of the Black Catholic community May 8 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary about the ways in which local Catholics can adopt an inclusive "growth mindset" while sharing Christ with those who need him most.

The pastoral plan asks that Black Catholic communities adopt a “growth mindset” instead of a “scarcity mindset,” Figueroa said.

“For so long, churches have been closing and merging and downsizing and cutting their services that people have adopted a scarcity mindset that there is not a lot they can do, and it has taken away their hope," Figueroa said. "(The National Black Catholic) Congress wants us to work with our communities to adopt a growth mindset that you do have the tools, the resources, the energy you need to evangelize, and you have to put it not on the backs of the archdiocese or the diocese all the time — you have to take it upon yourselves to use your God-given gifts and spirituality to start evangelizing each other and become the type of church you want to become.”

The May 8 meeting was synodal in nature; participants all had a chance to speak and participated in both larger and small group discussions.

"There is a lot of passion in Detroit for growing our churches with families and young people," Figueroa said after the meeting. "We recognize that the archdiocese hasn’t always had the resources, time, or focus to do some of these things in the past, but I am convinced now that we have more pastoral support, that we will be able to build."

Part of addressing scarcity within the Black Catholic community begins with Church leadership embracing synodality, which includes eradicating institutional racism, which has kept Black Catholics on the margins of the Church for decades, Fr. McKenzie said.

Fr. McKenzie urged parishes to involve young people in leadership roles to promote a sense of responsibility, while giving younger generations role models so they can see themselves reflected in the Church.
Fr. McKenzie urged parishes to involve young people in leadership roles to promote a sense of responsibility, while giving younger generations role models so they can see themselves reflected in the Church.

“We are the Catholic Church — we are supposed to be a mystical body (of Christ),” Fr. McKenzie said. “(Pope Benedict XVI) said that ‘the truth of the faith subsists within the Catholic Church,’ and yet there are people who have scarcity in that Church. That is ridiculous. That’s shameful, and it’s scandalous because we’re supposed to be the agents of Christ, and there’s a group of people that don’t feel or have not been fully welcomed.

“That’s what has built up in our Church, and it’s really our job to root it out,” Fr. McKenzie added. "That’s what the Holy Spirit calls all of us to, especially as we move forward as a synodal Church.”

In addition to mindset changes from the top down, Fr. McKenzie said that within the Black Catholic community, elders need to make way for youth and young adults to adopt leadership roles.

“We need to learn how to step aside and help be a guide to our young people,” Fr. McKenzie said. “We don’t have to be front and center; we have to let them be front and center.“

The way forward includes a new and positive approach to cultivating vocations within the Black community, Fr. McKenzie added. This approach must include more Black professors, leaders and priests in seminaries and religious institutions so young people can see themselves reflected in the Church, he said.

The meeting, which took place May 8 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, was the first of several meant to localize the national pastoral plan and implement a strategy for the Black Catholic community of southeast Michigan.
The meeting, which took place May 8 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, was the first of several meant to localize the national pastoral plan and implement a strategy for the Black Catholic community of southeast Michigan.

“We have to be ready to allow people to be who they are: Black,” Fr. McKenzie said. “Just be Black and be proud, and we (currently) don’t have a culture that’s welcoming to that.”

For there to be widespread change, Fr. McKenzie said a growth mindset needs to be preached and then embraced by those outside of the Black Catholic community and by those who haven’t been directly impacted by the sin of racism within the Church.

“There is hope in the risen Lord, Jesus,” Fr. McKenzie said. “This is his Church, and he is the boss. Today, I was (praying), and I thought, ‘There’s about six things I want to change in the Church,’ and then I realized I have absolutely no control, so I have to give it back to the Lord. Let him use me — us — as he pleases. The best thing we get — and this is a blessing — is we get to offer our suffering back to Jesus on the cross.”

In closing, Fr. McKenzie reflected on the words of his friend and fellow priest, Fr. Robert Boxie, chaplain at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“Fr. Boxie says the Black Catholic community will save the Catholic Church,” Fr. McKenzie said. “Why does he say that? Why not the Italian community or the Latina community? It makes sense because we know suffering. We know how to walk alone. We know how to share food when there’s not much food, a bed when there is not a bed. We’ve been there and done it many and plenty of times. We know how to deal with the difficult auntie, the drunk uncle, the gay cousin — this is what we do. Day in and day out, it's normal (for us), and to have that suffering and that welcoming mentality, that is what will save the Church in America.”



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