Native American Catholics at the Millennium
Presentation of Bishop Donald E. Pelotte, SSS
To the Spring Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
June 19, 2003
My brother bishops.
I am pleased to share with you this morning the survey report on Native American Catholics at the New Millennium. This report was produced by the Ad hoc Committee on Native American Catholics and was sent to every bishop in early March, 2003. The members of the committee are Archbishop Alexander Brunett, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., Bishop Blase Cupich, and Bishop Anthony Milone. Consultants to the committee are Msgr. Paul Lenz, Rev. Raymond Bucko, SJ, Rev. John Hatcher, SJ, and Sr. Kateri Mitchell, SSA. Daniel S. Mulhall serves as staff to the committee.
The Purpose of the study was
- To gain a better understanding the present state of the church's ministry to Native Americans; and
- To project what the need for personnel serving Native ministry for the next ten years.
The study data was collected in two national surveys. We received responses from 175 dioceses to one or both of these surveys. On behalf of the committee, I thank you for your cooperation with helping to gather this helpful information.
According to the 2000 United States Census we know that the Native American population is growing rapidly, and that the Native American Catholic population is also growing.
4.1 million people identify themselves as Native American on the 2002 Census, the majority of whom live in cities or small towns. The number of Native Catholics reported in the survey is 493,615, or about 12 percent. This number is probably very low. The demographic shift of Natives to live in cities suggests that there are large numbers of uncounted Native American Catholics living in urban areas.
Although large numbers of people are now claiming their Native American heritage, this is a population that is nearly invisible to most people. It is not surprising then that 40 per cent of dioceses are unaware of the numbers of Native American Catholics living within their boundaries.
MINISTRY TO NATIVE AMERICAN CATHOLICS
While most dioceses with large numbers of Native people living on reservations or government land generally offer well organized Native ministry, it is worth noting that the 2000 US Census reports that nearly one half of all US Native Americans live in dioceses that have no office or pastoral program specifically designed to meet Native American needs. Only a few dioceses have a pastoral plan to actively address the pastoral needs of Native American Catholics.
USING NATIVE RITUALS
The inculturation of liturgy, that is including Native symbols and rituals appropriately in the celebration of the sacraments and other liturgical prayer, plays an important role in modern Native Catholic ministry. I am happy to report that 51 dioceses said that such inculturated liturgies are allowed and encouraged.
MINISTERS TO AND WITH NATIVE AMERICAN CATHOLICS
Dioceses reported that a total of 322 individuals currently work in Native ministry. 60% of these people belong to religious orders. The average age of the 88 religious order priests is 62.2 yrs. The average age of the 61 diocesan priests is 52.7. The average age of religious women is 56.5.
Given the aging population of religious ministers, soon dioceses will have to take direct responsibility for the care of Native Americans. We encourage you to develop plans that include preparing Native leadership as well as providing non-Native priestly and formation personnel to assist in this ministry.
NATIVE CLERGY AND RELIGIOUS
According to the study there are currently
- 27 Native priests
- 8 Native seminarians
- 74 Native deacons
- 34 Native women religious
- 65 Native ecclesial ministers (we feel this number is much larger than what was reported)
HOW CAN WE HELP?
The Ad Hoc Committee sponsors an educational seminar for diocesan personnel who work with Native peoples. This workshop is called New Directions in Native American Ministry. Consultants to the Ad Hoc Committee will come to your diocese and conduct this seminar for your diocesan and parish personnel.
Along with the National Tekakwitha Conference, the Ad Hoc Committee sponsors for missionary personnel the week-long Basic Directions in Native American Ministry Institute, held at the Sioux Spiritual Center in South Dakota. It also cosponsors the week long Native Leadership Workshop-a five day educational experience for Native American leaders.
In addition, the committee supports the use of a three volume formation program for Native deacons and lay leaders called Builders of the New Earth. This program is available through the Sioux Spiritual Center in Plainview SD. The model of education used in this program has proven very effective with Native Americans. The Committee also encourages the formation of Inculturation Task Forces to help Native people use their culture and religious heritage in the church.
I would like to take a moment here to thank the National Tekakwitha Conference. In addition to its yearly meeting that gathers nearly one thousand Native Catholics, the national center provides year-round spiritual and educational support to dioceses, parishes, and individuals who are or who wish to work with Native Catholics. I thank Sr. Kateri Mitchell for the fine job she does as executive director of the organization.
The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, through the annual collection, continues to provide significant financial aid to support Catholic schools and evangelization efforts among Native people. The Bureau also provides expert testimony before Congress and government agencies on issues affecting Native Catholics. I thank you, my brother bishops, for your continued support of the collection.
I also thank Msgr. Paul Lenz and the Bureau staff for their tireless work in support of Native ministry.
On behalf of the ad hoc committee I’d like to offer a few thoughts about how you can minister more effectively to the Native Catholics who live in your dioceses.
First, get to know who the Native people are in your diocese, and then learn the gifts they have to offer and the needs they have.
Second, make sure that at least one person in your dioceses is well prepared to work with Native people. In addition, everyone who works with Native Catholics should have a basic understanding of Native life and culture. The training programs the committee offers can help you with this.
Third, work to identify and then prepare Native people to be ministers–clergy, religious, lay–to serve the needs of the Native Catholic population.
Native people were the first to hear the Gospel preached in the Americas. Among some of our Native peoples are families who have been Catholic for more than 400 years. All they ask is that the Church continue to be present for them.
Thank you for all you do to care for and minister to the Native people.