HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC CLERGY AND RELIGIOUS IN THE UNITED STATES (ACCCRUS)
By Sr. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ
Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church/PCMRT/USCCB
The national gatherings of African priests and religious women grew out of the initiatives from the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR). PCMR is one of the three divisions in the Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Following the Vatican's publication of Pastoralis Migratorum Cura, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops created the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR) in 1983 to provide a coordinated national pastoral response to newcomers and people on the move in need of special pastoral attention. The first task is to promote pastoral awareness and cultural sensitivity to newcomers through its network of diocesan ethnic apostolate. The Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR) now finds itself after the restructuring process as a Sub-committee on Pastoral Care for Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT) within the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church (SCDC). "The SCDC is given the mandate to assist the bishops in instilling the vision of Encuentro 2000 (Many Faces in God's House) and Ecclesia in America throughout the Church with the goal of bringing all the culturally and racially diverse communities, into a fuller participation in the faith, life, and evangelizing mission of the Church. Of special importance are the opportunities, challenges, and pastoral implications of promoting diversity awareness…with national and regional organizations that serve the needs of the faithful throughout the country" (cf. Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, brochure).
ACCCRUS is an acronym for African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States. The ACCCRUS is an association of priests and religious men and women from Africa, who are working and/or studying in the United States - and by their presence, have enriched the African and the United States Church. ACCCRUS was formed:
- To provide an environment of spiritual and social support to African Clergy and religious who are working in the United States.
- To organize seminars and workshops to make their ministry within the United States Church more effective and thereby preserve the integrity of their ministry as missionaries within the cross-cultural and multicultural dynamics of the American Society.
- To provide logistics for the orientation of the incoming African missionaries to the United States Church.
- To provide a forum for African clergy and religious to meet, be united and to provide for each other spiritual and social support.
- To liaise with African Bishops and Major Superiors and the US Conference of Catholic
Bishops, on issues affecting African Clergy and Religious on mission in the United States.
- For the promotion of understanding and cooperation among our members and other Africans who come from various parts of the African continent.
- For the encouragement and promotion of the welfare, education and advancement of African people both in Africa and the United States.
- To serve as a platform for the promotion of the ongoing dialogue on Solidarity between the church in the US and the African Church.
In 1995, Father Aniedi Okure, O.P. was appointed the first Coordinator of Ethnic Ministries at PCMR. The same year, PCMR, in collaboration with the Secretariat for African American Catholics and the Archdiocese of Boston's Office for Ethnic Apostolate sponsored the First African Catholic Community Conference, at the Pastoral Center in Boston. The conference discussed pastoral challenges facing African Immigrant Catholics in the United States. However, with the presence of so many Africans from diverse national, cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds living in different parts of United States, PCMR was challenged to be strategic in its effort to integrate these newcomers into the local church and society. This initiative prompted Father Aniedi Okure, O.P assisted by Sister Marie Prefontaine, SND to conduct regional orientation and acculturation workshops for African women religious in Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Jersey City, New Orleans, Oakland/Bay area, Newark, Portland (Oregon), Philadelphia, Jackson (Mississippi) and Detroit, with the intention that these Women Religious will help to further the evangelizing mission of the Church. The fruit of these regional gatherings is the emergence of the African Women Religious Conference (AWRC).
African Women Religious Conference (AWRC):
In 1997, PCMR led by Father Aniedi Okure and assisted by Sister Marie Prefontaine, SND organized the first National Conference of African sisters living in the United States - African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) in Bensalem Pennsylvania, to highlight issues regarding welcome and integration of African women religious into the life of the church in the United States. As a follow up, Father Aniedi Okure organized several gatherings of Regional Superiors of the different African Women Religious Congregations in the United States to further the process of welcome and integration for African women religious. These regional superiors became the resources for PCMR, providing information for a data base of African Women Religious ministering in the United States.
African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA):
In 1998, Father Aniedi Okure, OP as the Coordinator of Ethnic Ministries, organized the first national gathering of African Clergy living in the United States. The Conference which was held at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Tampa, Florida gave birth to African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA). This conference drew priests from eleven African countries. Father Callist Nyambo, then Director of the Office for Black Catholics, Diocese of St. Petersburg hosted the conference.
In 1999, the second African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA) national conference was held at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Tampa, Florida with Father Callist Nyambo as host. At this conference, issues pertaining to clergy exchange agreements, acculturation, "Pasturing in American Parishes" and liaison with Episcopal conferences in Africa were discussed.
THE FIRST TEN YEARS
Joint Conference of African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) and African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA):
In 2000, Father Aniedi Okure, OP organized the very first Joint Conference of African Women Religious Conference and African Catholic Clergy Association and (AWRC/ACCA) at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore, and along with it, the publication of the first directory of African priests and sisters in the United States. The purpose of the meeting was to address the needs of African Catholic Clergy and Religious with the Theme "You are my Witness". Many African Clergy and Women Religious came from all over the United States to participate in this Historic gathering. Following the success of this historic joint conference in Baltimore, there was a unanimous agreement by the participants that there is the need for Annual Joint Conferences of African priests and religious.
The Second Joint Conference of African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) and African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA) was held in Jacksonville Florida, 2001, to build on the successes of the previous gatherings and to focus on education and on the call to evangelization. The conference was charged with the duty to form of Regional Chapters. A committee on communication was formed to develop a communiqué from the proceedings of the meeting, which will form a working document for the USCCB/ Church in Africa/ACCA/AWRC. The theme of the Convention was "Where do we go from Here". We were encouraged to form regional chapters and at this time the following chapters formed: Houston TX, and Washington DC Chapters.
The Third Joint Conference of African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) and African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA) convened in West Palm Beach, Florida, 2002, with the leadership of Sr. Mary Paul Asoegwu, DDL as the Coordinator, Ethnic Ministries. This gathering focused on how the priests and religious can grow spiritually to carry out their work and how we of African descent can culturally adapt in the United States and at the same time affirm our presence as a support and resource to the many diverse communities. The theme of the Convention was - Making "It" Here Together.
The Fourth Joint Conference of African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) and African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA) was held in San Fernando, California, 2003. The conference was hosted by the California Chapter of African Priests and Religious. The purpose of the gathering was to address the needs, challenges and issues of the African Clergy and Religious as newcomers. Under the theme: Collaborating in Ministry.
The Fifth Joint Conference of African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) and African Catholic Clergy Association (ACCA) was held in Omaha, Nebraska, 2004, with the theme – "Looking Inward." The Omaha convention marked the turning point in the structure of the organizations. There came a growing sense of our own identity and dignity, and the realization of the important responsibility our organization holds in our existence as missionaries in the United States. The move was intensified to formalize the structure under one governing body and constitution. During this Fifth Annual gathering hosted by Omaha Chapter, the ACCA/AWRC Joint Conference was renamed African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS). The gathering witnessed the election of Fr. Anselm Nwaorgu as the First National President.
Different standing committees were formed:
- Constitution Committee.
- Solidarity with Africa.
- Hospital Chaplaincy.
- 2004 Communiqué.
The Sixth Annual Convention of African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS) was held inHouston, Texas (2005). The convention was hosted by the ACCCRUS Houston, TX Chapter with the Theme "Us and the Mother Land." Sr. Mary Francis Amanfo, DDL assumed the leadership as the Coordinator of Ethnic Ministries and continued its work in collaborating with ACCCRUS. The outcome of Convention was the Communiqué, which offered resources, suggestions, and other information on how ACCCRUS can collaborate in the common mission of the Church to evangelize. With the help of Fr. Anselm Nwaorgu ACCCRUS was registered and incorporated as a juridical entity, established an account with Bank of America and started the process of filing for a 501-C as a non-profit entity. During this time, ACCCRUS grew tremendously in fame as more chapters formed: Mid-Western Chapter; Tuscan, Arizona Chapter and Atlanta, GA. Chapter.
Washington, DC was the site for the Seventh Annual Convention of African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS) from August 30 – September 1, 2006, followed by the First African National Eucharistic Congress from September 2-3, 2006 at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The participants attended the First African National Eucharistic Congress which included bishops, clergy, religious and laity who filled the National Shrine. The convention was hosted by the ACCCRUS Washington DC chapter, The theme of the Convention was Breaking Bread Together: The African Experience. An informative Communiqué was produced. During this time, Sr. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ, became the Coordinator of Ethnic Ministries and continues to collaborate with ACCCRUS to organize its conventions. In this capacity Sister supports the efforts to reflect on the African presence of clergy and religious and their mission; how they can be most effective in ministry; how they can experience a supportive network of communal socialization and share ideas; and how they can pastorally respond to the needs of the newcomers in other to foster the Churches tradition of welcome and integration for all.
TheEight Annual Convention of African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS) was held in New Jersey, 2007; hosted by the newly formed ACCCRUS New Jersey Chapter. The theme of the convention was: "Faithfulness to our Call" The outcome of the eight Convention was the approval of the Provisional Constitution of ACCRUS and the election of new officers, with Fr. Martins Emeh as the President. A Communiqué was produced
The Ninth Annual Convention of African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS) was held in Chicago, 2008. The convention was hosted by ACCCRUS Mid-Western Chapter with the theme – "Priestly and Religious Lives as Counter-Cultural Witnessing". During this Convention, ACCCRUS constitution was approved and ratified.
The Tenth Annual African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States ACCCRUS was convene in Atlanta, GA, August 6-9, 2009. The Convention theme is: "Leadership in the 21st Century: The Role of Priests and Religious". In the past conventions, ACCCRUS received the representatives of the following African Episcopal conferences: bishops from SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar); from AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in East Africa); from IMBISA (Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa); and from Association of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (AECWA). Each conference enjoys a remarkable increase in the number of priests and religious attending these conferences.
The Eleventh Annual African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States ACCCRUS met this year in South Bend/Notre Dame August 5-8. The theme of the conference of ACCCRUS was: "the Second Synod on Africa: a call to service." This is a theme which has direct bearing on the recent 2nd Special Assembly on Africa of the Synod of Bishops (commonly referred to as the 2nd African Synod) which took place in Rome October 4-25, 2009). The theme of the synod itself was The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and peace: 'you are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world' (Mt 5: 13, 14.). There were over 130 priests and religious in attendance at this convention. Five bishops were present either in part or for the whole convention: Bishop Rutilio J. Del Riego (Auxiliary Bishop of San Bernardino and Chairman of the USCCB Sub Committee on pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees an travelers; Bishop Joseph Perry (Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago); Bishop George Nkuo, Bishop of Kumbo, Cameroon; Bishop J.M. D'Arcy (Emeritus Bishop of Fort Wayne/South Bend) who preside at the mass on Friday, August 6; and Bishop Joseph Afrifa-Agyekum, Bishop of Koforidua, Ghana. Also in attendance was Professor John Cavadini of Notre Dame.
"Revisiting the African-American Catholic Experience." is the theme for ACCCRUS 2011 convention which was held in The Hotel Arizona in Tucson, 181 W Broadway Blvd; Tucson, AZ 85701, August 4-7, 2011. Over 100 priests and religious attended the convention with the objective to promote collaboration between Africans in the United States and African-Americans. Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson, Arizona were in attendance. Three speeches at the convention were given by Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, Sr. Jamie T. Phelps, O.D., PhD, Director, Institute for black Catholic Studies, Xavire University of Louisiana and Dr. Cecilia Moore associate Professor of History, University of Dayton, Ohio.
ACCCRUS celebrated the Second African National Eucharistic Congress held August 2-5, 2012, in collaboration with the National Association of African Catholics in the United States. The Congress gathered more than 1,000 Catholics representing more than 20 African nations, and participants from various States and Dioceses of the United States. About 100 priests and over 120 men and women religious attended the congress. The congress which was held at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Maryland was in response to Pope Benedict XVI's call for a New Evangelization. The theme of the event "The Eucharist as Our Nourishment: Catalyst for Unity, Justice and Peace for African Catholics as New Migrants in the USA."
The following Bishops and other dignitaries were present:
- His Eminence Donald W. Cardinal Wuerl, S.T.D. Archbishop of Washington.
- Most Rev. Carlo Maria Vigano, Papal Nuncio to the United States
- Most Rev. Rutilio J. del Riego, Chairman, Pastoral Care of Migrants Refugees and Travelers and Auxiliary Bishop of San Bernardino
- Most Rev. William Avenya, Auxiliary Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Nigeria.
- Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne, South Bend
- Most Rev. Paul Loverde - Bishop of Arlington Diocese
- Most Rev. Guy Sansaricq, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn
- Most Rev. Martin Holley, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington
- H.E. Joseph Bienvenu Charles Foe Atangana, Ambassador Plenipotentiary-Embassy of Cameroon – the United States of America
- Maria Munoz-Visoso, Executive Director Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church
The Fourteenth Annual Convention of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS) held July 31 - August 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California gathered over 120 priests and religious to renew their commitment and to seek avenues on how to intensify their witness of charity and faith in action to service. ACCCRUS focused on the theme -Celebrating "The Year of Faith: 2,000 Years of Teaching and Believing." as the Church celebrates the Year of Faith which was declared by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with his Apostolic Letter of October 11, 2011, Porta Fidei.
The following Bishops were present:
- Rev. Rutilio Del Riego, Auxiliary Bishop of San Bernardino and Chairman, Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers.
- Bishop Shelton Fabre, auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans and now Bishop elect of Houma-Thibodaux Diocese.
- Bishop Edward Wm. Clark Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Archdiocese.