One Baptism, Many Cultures

We, baptized people, are very diverse, culturally speaking, within this great Catholic Mother Church that makes her way to God in the U.S.A. But what do we really mean by the word “culture” in our context?

When I hear, for instance, the phrase “I do not understand English or Spanish,” what is it that I am hearing? What is it that I do not understand? Is it just the sound of the words, or is there a little bit more, that remains in silence and accompanies the phrase? Is it an attitude, a posture, a way of thinking and/or interpreting the world around me?

No doubt, I have in mind contents which go beyond the sound of words and enter the field of purpose, meaning and ways of looking at things around us.

So, when I say, “I do not understand English-Spanish,” what I am implying is that I cannot grasp the intentions that travel in the small boats that these words are – that I do not understand the culture that language reveals and conceals at the same time.

By culture we understand the way a nation or nations perceive nature, society and God plus the way of living that such an understanding generates.

So, for the Spanish-speaking people the word “culture” translates a way of life, which rests upon the following beams of support: faith, family and fiesta. By faith, we mean Christian belief; by family, the well-known social and biological unit; and by fiesta, we mean the celebration of events which take place within the framework of the family, in general.

But the family events, births and deaths, for instance, are shadowed by faith, which touches also fiesta and family. So those three beams are interlocked and subsist in the form of a dynamic and vital unit. They form, now more visibly, a cultural unit. In such a way, that if one of those central lines of support weakens, the others suffer the impact also.

Now, which could possibly be the three equivalent beams of support for the Anglo culture?

In the opinion of this writer, those three pillars for the Anglo culture would be: law, number and business. By law we mean the body of guidelines which give order to public and social life. By number we point to “amounts” and “quantities.”By business we mean the occupation with those two aspects, law and number in life.

This quick and simple contrast between the two cultures – Anglo and Spanish- helps us profitably to understand the true meaning of the expression “I do not understand English’’ or “I do not understand Spanish,” and some of the phrase implications. The conclusion being that when we are talking about language, we are talking about some others aspects and sides of culture also.

Much of the evangelization that is taking place among us presupposes what we have just explained, and it would therefore be very wise for the evangelizer to be well aware and learned on those aspects which so much inculturize the noble exercise of spreading the Gospel.

Some Criteria for Intercultural Evangelization

Intercultural evangelization is a specific from of evangelizing, and not everybody is able to do it, even having the best will in the world. In fact, intercultural evangelizing requires certain skills, which are expected by the person of the other culture. And, at the same time feel free, in St. Paul’s expression, from all possible ideology which in, some way could throw a shadow on the light of the Gospel.

Indeed it is of importance for this evangelizer to know “reflectively” the essentials of his own culture. Thus, we have just described the possible essentials of the Spanish and of the Anglo cultures for his benefit.

It is very relevant also for purposes of evangelization to know and admire the values of the culture of the other person, or the other community.

The evangelizer should also be convinced that the dignity and worth of a human person is pre-cultural, and rests above culture, even if we evangelize the person which, of course, always happens to be rooted in a culture. God, who is pre-cultural, is in fact the fountain of our dignity.

It is very useful in intercultural evangelization to be convinced of the fact that Gospel transforms culture and perfects it; and that once a culture is perfected by the Gospel, it becomes itself a more fitting mediation for spreading the Kingdom.

May the evangelizer remember that he/she always evangelizes a concrete person, not his/her culture. This may happen later.

Finally, it is very consoling for us, evangelizers, to remember the fact that all cultures will be transformed at the end and will be seated at the same table of God, our happiness, in the Kingdom.

If what has been said in terms of criteria for spreading the Gospel to other culture or cultures other than mine is true, then it makes a lot of sense to affirm that we should not start evangelizing by the words Anglo, Spanish and Oriental, but from other “less cultural” words and yet more human, more personal and more religious – like baptized or non-baptized. From the word “Christian,” and from the word “person,” we will proceed to the words Oriental, Anglo or Spanish and then inculturize those noble words with the Gospel.

Father Ovidio Pecharroman is from Spain; has worked in the evangelization of the Hispanic community in various parts of the United States and has authored several books on culture and evangelization. He is director of the Sol Vocational Institute, a ministry of the Diocesan Laborer Priests in Washington, D.C.

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Catholic Review

Catholic Review

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