Mestizaje and multicultural religious education

Two of my favorite examples that depict God as an artisan forming his people are found in the pages of the Old Testament and in the writings of an early church father. In Chapter 18 of the Book of Jeremiah God identifies himself as the potter and the people of Israel as the clay in his hands. The second example is provided by St. Irenaeus, describing God molding (creating) man in his image and likeness while gazing at his Son, Jesus.

An important Hispanic-American theologian, Father Virgilio Elizondo, writes of the cultural mixing of races that took place in Latin America by virtue of the colonization of Europeans, in Spanish called “mestizaje” (mixture). He goes on to employ the same concept to describe a unifying religious “mestizaje” that occurred between the Indians and Europeans through the miraculous apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Elizondo sees the need for a new religious event that will galvanize humanity in unity and hope.

Elizondo could also be alluding to the event otherwise known as the mystery of the kingdom of God present among us. The mystery of the kingdom of God is indeed this unifying and hope-filled “event” that takes place in the person of Christ and the church. Collectively the church body is called to model the kingdom and individually the baptized are commissioned to work toward it.

How then is the building of the church tied to multicultural religious education? Elizondo points out that multicultural religious education presupposes a truly multicultural church, or at least one that is striving to be multicultural. He goes on to challenge by stating that before we can embark on a multicultural religious education we must undergo a deep cultural conversion from our previously unquestioned Western paradigm of truth itself. We have much to offer one another, if only we have the humility to accept it.

Current U.S. Church census data indicates that among Catholics under the age of 10, 56 percent are Latino-Hispanic. Similarly, of Catholics ages 10 to 19, 48 percent are Latino. Recent waves of immigration account for this high proportion. This data demonstrates that now more than ever, Catholic Hispanic children and youth are learning to cope to a greater or lesser extent with the inherent tensions associated with growing up between two cultures. Therein lies a challenging yet exciting formation opportunity for the church.

The church as educator is meant to evangelize, not Americanize. In other words, the church facilitates a process of learning that is integrative, versus one that is assimilative. The religious education challenge for the young Catholic Hispanic generation of today involves learning the faith in the setting of the parish without becoming strangers to their native culture within the home. One of the challenges for the church, on the other hand, has to do with training its religious educators with the competencies associated with multicultural religious education. Some of these competencies include cross-cultural communication and an awareness of popular religiosity within cultures to name a few.

Another challenging potential lies in the mission of the church to establish and foster strong ties with families (parents/guardians) in the interest of the religious education of its members. In order for an effective catechesis to take place, the entire family unit must be engaged. Often times it’s not suffice for parents/guardians to merely drop their kids off at catechism. Parents must be able to understand the content that their children are being instructed in order for follow-up to take place in the home. When parents themselves have been disengaged from the church, their children’s participation in catechism presents an optimal opportunity to reach out to them. One Hispanic parish community in the diocese instructs 30 parents while the children are catechized.

I contend with Elizondo that as church we are experiencing a grace-filled “mestizaje.”

Armando Daniel Garcia serves as coordinator of the Office of Hispanic Pastoral Formation in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Department of Evangelization.

Catholic Review

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