Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

Calling it an opportunity to “assess and reflect on what would be the best way to move forward with black Catholic ministry” in the Diocese of Richmond, Bishop Barry C. Knestout met with 16 black Catholic leaders and priests and deacons who minister in black parishes, Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Pastoral Center.

Representatives came from the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk; St. Mark, Virginia Beach; and the Richmond parishes of St. Elizabeth, Holy Rosary and the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. 

A primary topic of discussion was the hiring of a director for the Office for Black Catholics. Comboni Missionary Sister Inma Cuesta, director of the diocese’s Office of Hispanic Ministry, has been serving as interim director of the office since July when the director, Pam Harris, left to take a position with the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. 

Father James Curran, pastor of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk, said “the biggest thing” for him was to have a director for that office.

“Once it gets down to coordinator (instead of director), it loses its impact,” he said. “To connect to the diocese is so important and to have a director here who has your ear — that’s so significant. Support from the Church is very, very important.”

Ashley Dixon, a member of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk, concurred. 

“What we want essentially is a full and complete functioning office that supports the needs of black Catholics,” she said. 

Dixon said the office should do more than host events, which only reach “those that know what is already going on.” She suggested the office be integrated with other diocesan entities. 

“It should provide training and have inroads for other people who are serving as members of the Office for Black Catholics to sit on committees and commissions within the diocese,” she said.

Ricardo Givens, youth minister at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk, and campus minister at Norfolk State University, speaks to the bishop during the meeting. (Photos/Deborah Cox)

James Williams, also a member of the basilica, said that in order to be effective, the director of the Office for Black Catholics needed sufficient staff. He also told the bishop it was “absolutely necessary (for the Office for Black Catholics) to be able to contact to your office” so that he would be aware of issues that affect the black community.

“You can have a eucharistic beauty and all of the other enrichment to make you a wonderful Catholic, but you can still be out of tune with problems that are related to and affect black people,” he said. “Therefore, it is necessary that this (office) exists. We would much rather solve this here than have it blow up because of the issues we ignored.”

Bishop Knestout said he wanted to make sure this ministry continued in the Diocese of Richmond, and that, in consultation with those assembled and others, the diocese would search for a director of the Office for Black Catholics.  

Other topics raised during the meeting included evangelization, education, communication and scheduling, black Catholic identity and development of a black Catholic pastoral plan.