Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black Catholics' survey finds strong ties, strong engagement in church

This story connects with me in a very direct way. For years, I've noticed that there is a notable demographic pattern in people who absolutely love chant vs. those who are interested but not seriously engaged or interested in following up. And it does tend to fall along racial lines. The black Catholics are the ones most intensely interested in chant relative to what the numbers might predict. Time and again I've seen that following some presentation, the people who hang around after asking questions, wanting clarifications, wanting to sing, excited to learn more are disproportionately African American and are worshiping in communities that are historically so identified.

This story goes some distance in helping to put this response in a larger context.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- African-American Catholics are much more engaged in their church on a variety of levels than are white Catholics, concludes the first National Black Catholic Survey.

Whether in a majority black church, a mixed or mostly white parish, the survey found African-American Catholics feel satisfied and fulfilled in their parishes, explained retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., who is president of the National Black Catholic Congress.

By "engaged," Bishop Ricard explained, the authors of the report mean African-Americans are involved in their parishes well beyond simply attending Mass somewhat regularly. That includes having strong networks of friends and family in their churches, participating in multiple parish activities and saying their spiritual, emotional and social needs are met there.

Bishop Ricard, who is rector of the Washington seminary of his religious order, the Josephites, said the results of the survey surprised and pleased him and the leaders of the National Black Catholic Congress who commissioned it, along with the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Church Life and the office of the school's president. The survey will be used as the basis of a pastoral plan for evangelization that will be presented during next July's National Black Catholic Congress in Indianapolis.

"This is a bright spot for the church," said Bishop Ricard in an interview Nov. 28 at St. Joseph's Seminary. Whatever their parish situation, a majority of African-American participants in the attitudinal survey conducted by Knowledge Networks, "feel affirmed and have decided they are going to stay Catholic," he said. "It's a very optimistic message."

Among the conclusions of the survey were that black Catholics feel more committed to their parishes emotionally, spiritually and socially than do white Catholics. In those respects, as in many other aspects of the survey, black Catholics were shown to be much more like black Protestants in their approach to church than they are like white Catholics.

"Compared with other religious and racial groups, African-American Catholics behave and look like African-American Protestants," said the executive summary written by study authors Darren W. Davis, a professor of political science and associate vice president for research at Notre Dame, and Donald B. Pope-Davis, professor of psychology and vice president and associate provost Notre Dame.