SHARING RELIGION AND RACE; Young People Will Gather in Honor of Their Catholic Beliefs

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Until a couple of days ago, 12-year-old Richard Knight believed he was one of only a few hundred black Catholics in Jacksonville, Florida and maybe even the nation.

"I thought it was nothing but a couple of churches [in Jacksonville] that were African-American," said the boy, who worships at St. Pius V Catholic Church on the Northside.

But his view expanded this week when a visiting missionary told his class about large populations of black Catholics in other areas of the country.

Knight will get to see that first-hand today through Sunday when an estimated 300 members of the Knights of Peter Claver descend on Jacksonville for the 2010 junior conference. He's a member of the African-American organization that provides honor guards for religious and civic functions and conducts service projects in their local communities.

One benefit of the gathering - besides providing a fellowship opportunity for kids and showcasing their commitment to service - is educating the larger community that there are indeed blacks who are Catholic, said Athanase Jones of Jacksonville, the Knights' Gulf Coast district deputy.

Jones and other African-American Catholics say it's common to get puzzled looks when they disclose their faith.

"People are surprised and they'll say 'oh' - because it's such a small number," said the Rev. James R. Boddie Jr., an African-American and pastor of St. Catherine's Catholic Church in Orange Park.

That attitude is understandable in most areas of the country, where the number of black Catholics is relatively small, said Don Clemmer, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Black priests are also a rarity - 250 of about 41,000 priests are black, he said.

The breakdown is slightly larger for priests in the Jacksonville-based Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine. Spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg said 7 percent of the 82 priests working in the diocese are African-American. …

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