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Posted September 26, 2010

African and Caribbean Catholics in the United States

A Study Conducted for the
Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants
Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT) 2008
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Executive Summary

Brief History

The Church in the United States has a long history of providing pastoral care for newcomers. Over the years, the provision of pastoral care to newcomers has taken diverse forms, including the establishment of national churches, language specific parishes, and ethnic parishes. Whatever the form, the Church’s effort has been consistent. With the publication of Pastoralis Migratorum Cura by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People in 1973, the Church intensified its effort by creating a structure at the national level – The Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR) – to coordinate the pastoral care activities to newcomers.

Pastoral care to African and Caribbean-born Catholics was initiated in the 1980s and was expanded in the 1990s with the appointment of a national coordinator at PCMR. It received a new impetus following the Bishops’ publication of Solidarity With Africa in 2001.

Locations of African and Caribbean-born populations

The 2000 US Census shows that between 1990 and 2000, there was a sharp increase of African and Caribbean-born populations in the United States (142% for African-born and 53% for Caribbean-born); an increase that has brought new challenges to existing pastoral care structure especially at the local levels.

In recognition of these new challenges, the Office for the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees (PCMR) at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned this study to gather demographic information about African and Caribbean-born newcomers, where they are located, whether they are provided pastoral care, the type of pastoral care they are provided, and ways in which PCMR can better assist dioceses in their pastoral care of newcomers. We designed the survey in consultation with Sister Joanna Okereke, Coordinator of African and Caribbean ministries and Cecile Motus, Interim Director of PCMR at the USCCB. The report is based on information received from about half of the dioceses in the United States.

We used data from the US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Migration Policy Institute and the Department of Homeland Security. African and Caribbean-born populations concentrated in major metropolitan areas and in select states. The top ten states with African and Caribbean-born populations are alphabetically: California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. The data also show major increase of African and Caribbean-born between 2000 and 2005, over and above the sharp increase in the 1990s. In some states – Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming – the number of African-born populations doubled between 2000 and 2005.

This study focused mainly on dioceses located in major metropolitan areas. The Diocese of Brooklyn has the most; over half a million. Twelve other responding Arch/dioceses; Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Galveston-Houston, Newark, New York, Norwich, Orlando, Venice, and Washington indicated that they had 20,000 or more African and Caribbean-born Catholics in the diocese. Seven reported having 5,000 or more. Six reported 2,500 or more. The remaining twenty-one responding dioceses reported 1,000 or less.

Challenges to Dioceses and Visibility Issues

Many dioceses have difficulties providing data on foreign-born members. About fifty of the dioceses reported that there were no African or Caribbean-born populations within their territories. Most of the reports were different from census data which showed significant numbers of African and/or Caribbean populations within many dioceses reporting their absence. There seem to be a general lack of visibility of African and Caribbean-born Catholics in many dioceses. Some dioceses acknowledged there were significant numbers of African and Caribbean-born populations but indicated they did not have the statistics on them. This was a major challenge of this study.

The data in this report – from government sources, from diocesan staff and from community leaders – are conservative estimates, and should be seen as a platform for examining the pastoral care issues in this study.

Type of Pastoral Care Provided

About forty percent of the dioceses that reported they have African and Caribbean-born Catholics also indicated that they provide regular pastoral care for them. Regular pastoral care basically consists of assigning a priest-chaplain to the community, or appointing a priest coordinator who speaks the same language as the community, or assigning a place for the community to gather.

About fourteen percent of the dioceses provide ad-hoc pastoral care, consisting of gatherings on special occasions. The reasons given for providing ad-hoc pastoral care included lack of resources and personnel, or that they were spread throughout the dioceses and mingle in parishes

About forty-five percent of the diocese indicating they have African and/or Caribbean-born populations also reported that they did not provide them separate pastoral care because they were integrated in parishes and did not request special liturgy or that the group was small or the diocese did not have the resources and the personnel.

Issues of Identity

African and Caribbean-born persons do not feel that the designation “Black” or “African American” identifies who they are. They prefer ethnic or national based identity to racial (black-white) based identity. They tactfully resist the racial-minority status imposed on them by the American society. Their preference for their home country majority (higher) status calls for understanding by pastoral care providers so as not to confuse the multifaceted dimensions of culture and ethnicity with simple racial categorizations.


Fifty-three percent of responding dioceses indicated that they needed assistance with outreach programs, raising awareness in parishes and educating parishes on welcoming newcomers. About twenty-five percent need assistance with resources and statistics on African and Caribbean Catholics in their dioceses. Twelve percent indicated that acculturation programs for newcomers would be helpful.

We hope that the results from this survey will serve as stepping stone to an increased understanding of the pastoral care needs of African and Caribbean born Catholics in the United States.