|EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR'S CORNER.......................................................................|
In January 2009 the Committee on Cultural Diversity with its five subcommittees celebrates its first birthday. Many have asked how things are going for this Committee and the Secretariat that works under its direction. I take this opportunity to give a brief report.
My first impression is that the restructuring of cultural/ethnic offices has provided everyone here at the USCCB with an opportunity to renew their commitment to serving the bishops and the dioceses more effectively by becoming more aware and competent in the broad field of cultural, ethnic and racial diversity. The bishops chose to use the word “diversity” and signaled their awareness of the central place that diversity and cultural contextualization play in the Church’s identity and mission to evangelize today. What that means concretely is that pastoral ministry of every kind must reflect more and more the reality of this diversity by forming ministers – bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women and lay ecclesial ministers – who possess the necessary cultural competencies to effectively reach out to communities of non-European origin who today constitute the majority of Catholics in the United States. This is a shift of historic consequences for the Church in this country.
At the same time the bishops realize that there is already a track record of pastoral planning and response particularly in the case of Hispanic and African American Ministries that needs to be affirmed but now put in the broader context of newer groups like the Asian and Pacific Islanders. The needs and long, often painful history of the aboriginal peoples must also be recognized and ways found to collaborate more effectively with the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and with the Tekakwitha Conference which have served for many years now as the primary national agencies for addressing the challenges of Native American Catholic ministries.
DIALOGUE AMONG CULTURAL GROUPS
One of the implications of the explosion of diverse groups in the Church in the U.S. is the challenge of creating a serious dialogue not only between them and the European American “mainstream” but also among the diverse groups themselves. The staff of the Secretariat has become more hopeful this year about the possibility of learning from each other. The staff is also aware of the shift going on in parishes and dioceses throughout the country whereby the so-called “minority groups” are achieving critical mass and in more than a few situations assuming more and more ecclesial leadership. This important change requires a re-focusing, transfer and development of resources for better forming and affirming this emerging leadership. The effective unity of the Church is now making it imperative that leaders from these emerging, diverse communities talk together about strategies, policies and to support one another’s ecclesial agenda as well as develop a shared agenda.
POPE BENEDICT XVI HIGHLIGHTS DIVERSITY’S POSITIVE ROLE
Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit in April 2008 provided real encouragement for our Secretariat’s mandate because the Holy Father spoke in no uncertain terms about the opportunity that diversity offers the Church. He strongly supported the Bishops in their plea for a fair and just reform of immigration law. He took the opportunity on almost every occasion to note the blessing that diversity brings to the Church. He gave emphasis to the Hispanic presence by speaking on several occasions in Spanish. The beautiful liturgies and ceremonies faithfully modeled this diversity, especially the magnificent Mass celebrated at the National Stadium in Washington, DC.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE
People ask, however, about the role that the Committee on Cultural Diversity and its Secretariat plan to play in facilitating the Church’s relationship to so much diversity. That is a good question! At this early date it seems that the Committee and Secretariat are entering into a period of ongoing dialogue with many other committees and departments of the Bishops Conference. The purpose of this is to help integrate the awareness of diversity and its implications for so many aspects of the Church’s life into the activities of the entire USCCB. This is not easy. The strategic planning process centered on five priorities provides an excellent framework for culturally contextualizing the Conference’s efforts. The challenge is going to be in finding the time and expertise to work through these implications is such broad areas of concern – faith formation and sacramental practice, promotion of vocations to priesthood and consecrated life, life and dignity of the human person, and strengthening marriage. Of course, one of the priorities is recognition of cultural diversity itself with special emphasis on Hispanic ministry.
In carrying out this tremendously challenging task the Secretariat is guided by the bishops on the Cultural Diversity Committee who have expressed a desire first of all to proceed in a way that is truly collaborative, that is, that recognizes the many efforts being made in dioceses as well as by religious congregations of men and women, apostolic movements, and Catholic colleges and universities and regional and national organizations to address the opportunities and needs of the whole Church. While financial resources are scarce and getting scarcer, the bishops desire to be supportive and as present as they can be to the evangelization carried out by both professionals and volunteers in the field. Secondly, the bishops wish to encourage a real sense of subsidiarity whereby the communities closest to the needs and, in the final analysis, most invested in finding the way forward, are given the recognition and support they need to respond to their situation. This way of proceeding reflects an ecclesiology of communion more than a top-down approach.
TOWARD GREATER COLLABORATION
One of the implications of Vatican II’s ecclesiology of communion is the reduction of a certain kind of paternalism that often has the undesirable effect of disempowering communities rather than enabling them to respond to their needs and opportunities. For this ecclesiology to be effective, however, a great deal of dialogue, better communication and mutual accountability is needed. In regard to the need for communication, the Secretariat is hopeful about the possibilities offered by the internet and is spending a lot of time forging as effective a communications plan as possible.
I have come to think that in creating the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church the bishops were signaling a way forward as an historic cultural shift goes into high gear. In this process the Hispanic communities, as a matter of sheer demographics, must assume a special role. The encuentro pastoral planning processes of the past several decades have endowed U.S. Latino Catholics with a great collective experience and solid pastoral accomplishment that have to be communicated to new generations. Latinos must also learn from the history, accomplishments and future promise of African American Catholics who for many reasons provide a model of organization and commitment of which the whole Church in the United States can justly be proud. Asian and Pacific Island communities, the aboriginal peoples and the abundant flow of refugees and migrants coming to this land are not any less part of our Church’s and country’s great treasure of humanity. No one knows all the gifts they will eventually bring. But they will be significant. The Secretariat of Cultural Diversity seeks then to help mine this gold, these often “hidden blessings” of diversity for parishes, dioceses and the entire Church.
WELCOMING DIVERSITY: KEY FOR CATHOLICITY
Speaking about the impact of cultural diversity in terms of a give and take between cultures in his own Diocese of Rome, the Holy Father Benedict XVI said (as reported in L’Osservatore Romano for February 7, 2008): …”There is a giving and receiving on all sides: precisely this accounts for the vitality of catholicity, where we are all indebted to the gifts of the Lord and are then able to give them to one another. It is in this reciprocity of gifts, of giving and receiving, that the Catholic Church lives. This vivacity, at least of the religious spirit, that exists in these continents (Asia, Africa and Latin America) is consequently a great gift to all of us…in particular to those countries where the phenomenon of immigration is more pronounced…Our cold Catholicism is revived by this fervor that comes from them. Hence catholicity is a great gift.”
Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, STD, Ph.D.