Training helps intercultural understanding


By Father Christopher Posch, O.F.M.

Last week, one Korean community and one Chamorro/Guamanian community in the United States were told to cancel Masses in parishes where they have been worshiping. Also, a small group of 20-something Hispanic immigrants were denied a space for weekly prayer and faith formation on their parish grounds. This is hard to believe.

Currently, 30 percent of the people in the U.S. are non-white. By 2042, the majority of the U.S. population will be non-white.

The Catholic Church has always been the most ethnically diverse of all U.S. denominations. In order for this to continue, significant changes must occur.

That’s why the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed the Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM) program which aims to offer church leaders proficiency and sensitivity amid diversity – with an emphasis on appreciative inquiry, resulting in ecclesial integration and unified diversity.

“Most people don’t like diversity,” commented Jesuit Father Allan Deck, a pioneer in Hispanic ministry and intercultural theologian.

Humans are “wired” to be on guard against those who are different, he said, and often behave like turtles entering their protective shell when facing the unknown. Father Deck emphasizes that “proficiency in intercultural relations is an essential tool in carrying out the church’s call for a New Evangelization. Sensitivity to the values, customs and mentalities of the diverse communities that make up the church today is a critical factor in successful communication of the Gospel and in motivating people to follow Christ.”

Alejandro Aguilera-Titus of the BICM team adds, “an attitude of welcome without judgment and the ability to listen carefully to what others are saying are essential qualities of an interculturally competent minister.”

Last year, a parish Spanish Mass was converted to a bilingual mass without adequate dialog. Although this satisfied some parishioners, more than 300 migrated to other congregations or became unchurched. Aguilera-Titus emphasizes that “avoiding the temptation of one-size-fitsall is key to successful ministry in culturally diverse parishes.”

So far, about 215 church leaders from 22 dioceses have completed the BICM regional training in Washington D.C.; Des Moines, Iowa; San Bernardino, Calif.; and Baltimore.

The U.S. bishops hope the training will be offered in every diocese in the U.S. over the next two years, using the multiplier effect. In coming months, training is scheduled to be offered in the dioceses of Arlington, Detroit and Wilmington.

Adult learning principles that respect the participants’ wisdom and experiences are employed. Effective methodologies include thought-provoking discussions; reflections on the elephant in the sanctuary – racism; and analysis of humorous and slightly exaggerated skits that portray a parish council meeting between diverse people from individualist and collectivist cultures discussing the proposal to place a colorful Marian statue in the sanctuary of “St. Bland.” In another skit, the “Alians” seek ecclesial space while the “Prevail-ians,” the longtime parishioners, resist. Even mealtime offers significant moments to consider a food’s origin, preparation and hospitality. Many participants were surprised to discover that there are hundreds of types of rice, with different kinds bearing special significance according to culture.

BICM training is important not only for the survival of the U.S. Catholic Church – it is essential for “kerygma,” the proclamation of the Gospel to all peoples. BICM helps the church to remember that we are all God’s children, we are all sisters and brothers. We recall Jesus’s prayer before accepting the cross, “Father, may they all be one.”

Father Roger DiBuo, BICM graduate and pastor of the multicultural parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in Bear, Del., states, “there is new life, energy and spirit moving in and among God’s holy people. This movement allows us to worship together … where God’s people are nourished, one table and one family. There is room enough for all.”

Upon completing the BICM training, Miguelina Cruz of Georgetown, Del., responded, “Every day I feel more proud of being Catholic.” ?


Father Christopher Posch, O.F.M. is the director of the Wilmington Diocese Office of Hispanic Ministry and BICM graduate/trainer.

Copyright (c) Sept. 20, 2012

Catholic Review

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