Avoiding tension within culturally diverse parish communities

Tension often exists between the dominant culture in a parish and the minority Hispanic-Latino Catholic communities. This situation can be a challenge to the church’s mission. Instead of celebrating the building of community and promoting worship and life in prayer, or being of service to the most marginalized among us, including fighting for justice and peace, or receiving formation so that all may grow and mature in faith, many Hispanics experience and believe that the body of Christ has a cloud over it. Responding to cultural diversity in the church is an opportunity to rediscover the Gospel values that have been taught and to work together on building welcoming and loving communities of hope where no one feels abandoned or ignored.

As the Church in the United States grows and becomes more culturally diverse, the dominant culture and minority cultures have to change and adapt to meet the challenges and accept the gifts God has sent our way. Communication, comprehension and collaboration among all members of the faith communities are vital to assure that our prayers and efforts to build inclusive and lasting communities are heard and are promoted by all. This process requires much patience and needs to be deliberate and systematic in order to move the community forward. Pope John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization that is new in ardor, method and expression is helpful in grasping what is expected to help the community grow with everyone’s input.

We have been taught that God’s presence is revealed to each and every one through our cultural context and language and with the faith and wisdom of our families and communities. Working among the most vulnerable, including the stranger from other lands and cultures, as well as with the mainstream Catholic population, has shown that a community of faith blossoms and grows when its members are trusted and the community is welcoming, respectful, and giving.

The symbols and popular religiosity are expressions of God and the Blessed Mother’s presence in the history and the people’s experience of life. Seeing their symbols in parish liturgies and participating in celebrations enriches their identity and affirms their belonging to the community. At the same time, celebrations and worship services that honor the customs and faith traditions of a community also provide the stories that become the catechesis shared with children and families.

The Eucharist is obviously central to the faith of all communities. However, the faith community has to realize that there are many people who cannot, or do not, receive Holy Communion because of personal situations in their lives. For this reason, it is up to the parish community to do everything in its power to assure that all of its members feel at home and are nurtured through the modeling of the community’s good deeds, the readings of the day, and the homilies.

In summary, to develop a sense of community there are three major pastoral principles to keep in mind. First, develop a sense of belonging by meeting people where they are, make people feel at home, and develop ministries and ministers. Second, weave a new diverse community by building relationships across cultures and ministries, champion leadership development and formation and view and manage crisis as opportunities for growth. And third, achieve ownership and stewardship by opening wide the doors to the decision-making process, sow and reap full ownership and stewardship and achieve full commitment to the life and mission of the parish community.

In our current environment, 200 million people are on the move on any given day. A good percentage of those people come to the United States because they can get work here and can provide opportunities for their families they cannot obtain in their home countries. Let us be in solidarity with people on the move. As Christians, the only passport the church requires is baptism.

Ronaldo Cruz is retired from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, where he served for 22 years. He was executive director of the Secretariat of Hispanic Affairs from 1991 – 2007.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.