By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – About 300 young men and women gathered at the Marriott in downtown Jackson the weekend of March 8, for the regional conference of the Junior Knights and Junior Daughters of Peter Claver. The conference draws from North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The gathering was sponsored in part by the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry.
The participants ranged in age from six-18. The theme, “Worship Like a Rock Star, Through Christ Who Strengthens Me,” drove all the presentations and activities, which included a talent contest of musicians, vocalists, dancers and steppers, a science fair, debate and speech competitions as well as business meetings and, of course, prayer and Liturgy.
At all of their conferences the participants engage in a service project. This year, junior knights and daughters selected literacy as their issue and they all brought books to donate to a local shelter.
At the conference Mass Saturday, March 8, celebrant Father Vernon Huguley, the chaplain for the Gulf Coast District and a pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Birmingham, Ala., was joined by Father Darrell Kelly, SVD, of Jackson Holy Ghost Parish and Father Ricardp Phipps of the Catholic Community of West Jackson. Father Huguley challenged the congregation to go to confession by the following Sunday. He reminded them that confession is a great way to root out negativity. “When we have something negative in our hearts, we block a blessing,” he said.
He also reminded them that the season of Lent is about sacrifice and challenged them to give up something that might be hard, such as texting or watching a favorite television show. After Mass the group gathered for a spirited awards banquet and then a dance.
The Knights of Peter Claver is a Catholic organization founded specifically for African Americans. They do service and evangelize as well as support one another in their faith. Matthew Amos, president of the Junior Knights, 18, came from Atlanta for the convention. “The Knights run deep in my family, my grandmother is the Grand Lady in my parish and Director Hutchens is like a second father to me. It’s like one huge family,” he explained. Amos plans to attend Clark Atlanta University next year, but will continue to work with the group. In fact, he’s hoping to pull more juniors into the senior knights with him. “I feel like I have gained so much knowledge over the years through this group. I hope I can use it to get more juniors to transfer to the senior division,” he said.
Junior Daughters president Kennedy Blanchard also described the group as a family. She joined after seeing her brother participate at their home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Atlanta, but continued through the ranks as she got older. “I felt like it was my duty to God to serve and I felt called to serve (in the Junior Daughters).” Amos and Blanchard grew up together.
Supreme Knight DeKarlos Blackmon closed the banquest by urging those in attendance to make each gathering bigger. “We go back to those baptismal promises. We need to evangelize, we need to be the salt and the light, we need to be the hope,” he said. He added that every member is a leader, even if they are not an officer or group leader. They are, by their faith, called to be community leaders.
The senior members of the organization in the Gulf Coast Conference will gather in Jackson on the first weekend of May.