The Secretariat for Black Catholics has asked local black Catholic churches and schools to help black youths grow into more "effective" adults by including them in decision-making and holding workshops to help them understand the problems they will face in adult life.
The recommendations grew out of workshops and surveys conducted with 200 black inner-city students last October.
Some black educators and clergy had been concerned that the Catholic liturgy and youth activities -- designed with white suburban Catholic in mind -- were not meaningful to inner-city blacks.
These suspicions proved true. The survey found that young adults' most common complaints about the Catholic church includes its lack of response to the needs of black congregations, unfairness in the Catholic Youth Organization and a lack of understanding of street life.
The students' No. 1 complaint was the church's views on celibacy, sex, birth control and marriage.
Respondents also asked that churches sponsor more activities for young people, such as discos, field trips, talent searches, teen clubs, gospel choirs and athletic teams.
One parish, Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, responded quickly to the recommendations by electing a youth to the parish council and planning a monthly youth Sunday beginning in April.
It is also sponsoring a youth unemployment workshop next month and considering more sports programs, according to Sister Mary Rae Waller, who works closely with the parish youth planning committee.
Waller said the Council also is seeking a full-time youth minister for the parish's 250 young adults.
But other local pastors and youth ministers have not acted as quickly.
The secretariat, in the published survey results, criticized pastors and school principals for not supporting Black Awareness days and, in some cases, expressing "their disinterest in any youth activity.
The Rev. Thomas Kelly, paster of Assumption Church in Anacostia, said that while "there is a need for some sort of youth activities in this part of the city," young people in his church are not pushing for them and there are few trained volunteers to lead the activities.
Young people at the Church of the Incarnation in northeast Washington have also shown little enthusiasm, according to the Rev. Roger Caesar, the assistant pastor. He said only 20 of the 100 young people in his church have responded to his invitation to planning sessions. "Maybe it's due to the lack of coming up with something decent on our part," he said. "Or maybe they just don't know about it."
The Rev. Robert T. Guillen, pastor of St. Martin's Church on North Capital Street NW, said that although young people in his parish have said they would like to assume a greater role in the church, "they're not as enthusiastic when I call" about serving as ushers for mass.
Guillen said he knows of other clergymen who "have no interest" in work with inner-city youth, something Guillen sees as imperative if there are to be black Catholics in the future.
Guillen said that all young Catholics have basically the same complaints about the church: "We go to church, but we don't get nothin' out of it."
Another priority of both Guillen and the secretariat is to encourage more black youths to go into religious vocations. "A white priest may have all the good intentions in the world," said Guillen, "but the young people want to see a minister who's one of their own -- that's where the credibility lies."
Guillen sees this and increased black participation in the top levels of the Catholic Church as the only way to eliminate the "sin of racism" within the church.