WASHINGTON (March 30, 2000) – An anti-immigration rally led by former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke in Siler City, North Carolina, has become the catalyst for renewed support for Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God's House by Bishop F. Joseph Gossman of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Encuentro 2000, which is slated for July 6-9, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, is the U.S. bishops' jubilee year event to emphasize the multi-cultural nature of the Church in the United States. It involves convening people from different racial/ethnic groups and cultures, through a structured process, to share the rich and unique gifts of their respective backgrounds and experiences, understand those experiences in the light of Gospel values, and take action together to promote the common good.
Anticipation of the anti-immigration rally which took place February 19 created anxiety among people of Siler City and the town's St. Julia's Church. It prompted a February 17 letter from Bishop Gossman to reiterate the church's support for the people of the parish, many of whom are Mexican and Latino.
"Be assured that the Church stands with you on your journey and will work to respect your dignity as persons and your place in society," Bishop Gossman wrote.
"We are a Church of many cultures and many faces," he added. "We must always remember that God is creator of us all."
On the eve of the rally, people assembled in St. Julia's Church for the weekly bi-lingual Mass. According to the February 27 issue of the diocesan newspaper, the NC Catholic, "more than 200 people--Hispanic, white and African-American--filled the little church to celebrate Mass and to pray for peace, understanding, and that the Spanish speaking will find welcome and belonging beyond these walls."
Later that night vandals slashed tires on a church van in the parish parking lot and defaced a sign which gave Mass times and quoted in English and Spanish, Matthew 25: "For I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
Shortly afterwards, Bishop Gossman cited the Siler City events in a letter urging each diocesan pastor and pastoral administrator to send at least one representative to the Encuentro 2000 gathering in Los Angeles.
"It seems pretty clear from our recent experience in Siler City (that),... the growing question for all of us in the years to come is to make the stranger welcome, ...while doing this, we need also to let our people see and experience that the coming together of different racial and ethnic groups and cultures in our Catholic churches builds up and glorifies the Body of Christ," Bishop Gossman said. "To welcome the stranger is a Gospel mandate."
Information on Encuentro 2000 can be found on the Web at www.encuentro2000.org.