He is also the first Black Permanent Deacon ordained for the Diocese. Deacon Bill shared some diocesan history in response to “Cultivating a Parish from a Black Catholic Perspective” by Ashley Morris, which was published in Nov. 15, 2019 issue of the Catholic Star Herald. “In November of 2000 the diocese formed the Racial Justice Committee. The purpose was to increase awareness of the problem of racism in the diocese. Leadership was provided by trained coordinators and a dedicated Committee offered workshops and other programs throughout the diocese,” he said.
In recent years there has been a drop in trained personnel which has resulted in a lack of ability to provide programs.
Today’s office has expanded to reflect the changing needs and population of the diocese.
It is now the Office of Black Catholic Ministry and Cultural Diversity.
Each year during February — Black History Month — the diocese hosts two initiatives which focus on and celebrate the young church. These two are possible primarily due to a grant through the Black and Indian Mission Fund.
Working closely with the Catholic Schools Office, an essay contest is held in the diocesan schools. It is open to all seventh and eighth grade students. The theme this year is: How Does Social Media Impact Our Christian Values of Respect and Kindness?
A scholarship contest for students of African American and African descent is also held each year. Scholarships awarded provide students of the diocese funds for study in our Catholic high schools. In 2018, the office was able to expand this to support two scholarships for college.
Annual events sponsored by the office include the Day of Reflection held in November — Black Catholic History Month. The Black History Month Mass, held the fourth Sunday in February at Saint Charles Borromeo in Sicklerville, is an evangelization tool, bringing people of African American and African descent together at a Eucharistic liturgical celebration. The Afternoon of Jazz held in April provides support for the young church through additional funding for the essay and scholarship contests.
Ongoing initiatives include monthly Masses held with our African brothers and sisters in both English and in the Igbo language. The English language Mass is held at Saint Charles Borromeo in Sicklerville. The Igbo language Mass is held at Saint Francis DeSales Church in Barrington.
A Mass is held monthly at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Galloway in Creole for our Haitian brothers and sisters.
Each summer a Mass of Welcome is celebrated for Haitian farmworkers coming from out of state to harvest the blueberry crops. The Mass in Creole is celebrated in the fields in Hammonton and is followed by a gala reception.
Our Diocesan Gospel Choir, aptly named, God’s Perfect Harmony under the leadership of Tonya-Taylor Dorsey, is a culturally diverse group of dedicated people, ministering to everyone through song.
With the expansion of the Office’s focus, the work expanded to include all ethnic groups, including the Vietnamese, Korean and Filipino communities. Work is underway to bring all together to celebrate our faith at a Eucharistic Liturgy sharing all diverse cultures. Additional plans include working with the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry and offices of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Wilmington to host a Youth Summit in June for the Juneteenth celebration. The location will be announced shortly.
The Black Catholic Ministry Commission has become more parish based since its establishment in 2011, promoting a vibrant ministry that spiritually nurtures and sustains Black Catholics within the diocese. It fosters understanding, appreciation and respect of Black Catholic culture and worship among all Catholics within the diocese for the continuing conversion and transformation of the faithful into the one Body of Christ.
Deacon Bill Johnson and Cherryl Summers, Coordinator of Black Catholic Ministry and Cultural Diversity, Diocese of Camden, and others involved in Black Catholic Ministry contributed to this article.