WASHINGTON (November 16, 2000) -- U. S. Catholics are challenged to find unity in the diversity of languages, cultures, and forms of worship shared by new immigrants, and the Church is called to respond with an open and welcoming spirit, according to a pastoral statement approved by the nation's Bishops at their general assembly here this week.
Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity reminds Catholics in the United States of their own immigrant heritage, calls them to a conversion from fear and competition to a spirit of welcome and communion.
"Unity in diversity is the vision that we bishops, as pastors of the Church in the United States, offer to our people as they welcome the new immigrants and refugees who come to our shores," the Bishops said.
They acknowledge that the immigrants of the past 35 years are different from those of previous years. Instead of origins mostly in Europe, these new immigrants have come from a variety of places in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Many come as skilled laborers and professionals with a variety of educational backgrounds. Many come as refugees who fled persecution in their homelands.
"This diversity of ethnicity, education, and social class challenges us as pastors to welcome these new immigrants and help them join our communities in ways that are respectful of their cultures and in ways that mutually enrich the immigrants and the receiving Church," the Bishops' statement says.
In calling for a welcoming spirit, the Bishops acknowledge that the Church in the United States has not always responded adequately and appropriately. Competition for resources and recognition in parishes has manifest itself in parish conflicts over "prime" Sunday Mass times, the use of facilities, and representation on parish committees.
"Such conflicts can reflect vague fears that one group will somehow displace a long-established one," the Bishops state.
The response, they say, is a call to communion.
"As Catholics, we are called to take concrete measures to overcome the misunderstanding, ignorance, competition, and fear that stand in the way of genuinely welcoming the stranger in our midst and enjoying the communion that is our destiny as Children of God."
"Taking the steps to understanding one another is the first form of hospitality," the document notes, "and inter-cultural communication is critical." Likewise, striking a balance between respect for the cultures, values, and traditions of immigrants on the one hand, and drawing immigrants into the unity of the Church on the other hand is essential.
"For the Church in the United States to walk in solidarity with newcomers to our country is to live out our catholicity as a Church," the Bishops state. "The Church of the twenty-first century will be, as it has always been, a Church of many cultures, languages and traditions, yet simultaneously one, as God is one -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- unity in diversity."
Note: The full text of the document: www.nccbuscc.org/mrs/welcome.shtml