As the synodal consultation process is underway, I have heard several diocesan lay leaders across the country express how concerned they are that this process is not inclusive. Many fear that only one group of people, mainly parish and diocesan leadership councils, will be asked for input during this first stage. Others share how parishes continue to serve only the dominant group in the community and do not include all cultural communities. What is painfully evident is the lack of diversity in areas of leadership and the lack of focus in the experiences of these marginalized parishioners.
This lack of representation speaks to a reluctance on the part of the American Catholic Church to accept a multicultural understanding of Catholicism in parish life, an understanding that celebrates the diversity and inclusion of all cultural families present in the United States. . Isn’t that a goal of the global synodal process: to include all diverse voices and perspectives in this journey together?
As we begin this synod, I hope that those who lead the parish consultation process will welcome, promote and integrate all the cultural families present in our parishes. In particular, I hope that the importance of multilingual ministries and inculturated religious practices will be recognized and thoughtfully addressed in the process.
Language is a key element of a people’s culture, and to celebrate Mass in the vernacular is to implement the teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council. As such, any dialogue about the future of the church must take into account that the church in the United States is home to speakers of many different languages. However, many parishes do not offer multilingual services, either on Sundays or throughout the week. Many pastors and lay leaders are ill-equipped to meet the multicultural pastoral needs of people in their own language. We now understand a parish as a community of communities, but this reality is only visible if the parish structures welcome, promote and integrate the different cultural families within its community.
These shortcomings are especially palpable when you compare the multilingual Eucharistic services in places like California to the English-only Masses found in the Northeast. Before the pandemic, one of the last trips I took was to Anaheim, California to attend the Los Angeles Religious Education Convention. During the opening Mass, we heard readings and music in four languages: English, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. It emerged as a culturally appropriate liturgy, and the rest of the conference offered culturally appropriate Masses and sessions. It was deeply moving; it gave participants a sense of belonging and inclusion through music, ritual dances and multilingual prayers.
The American church is a tapestry of cultural religious traditions sharing a religious denomination. As such, it requires processes, such as Journeying Together, sponsored by the USCCB’s Office for Cultural Diversity, that foster listening and dialogue among America’s diverse cultural families as well as pastoral care for migrants, refugees and people on the move. These processes can serve as inspiration for the parish consultation process and provide a model for addressing the ongoing marginalization faced by many cultural families in American parishes.
For example, when I joined Journeying Together Zoom meetings at the start of the pandemic, it was enlightening to hear about the different cultural and religious traditions present in Hawaii and California, as well as the need to rediscover cultural traditions and popular nuns. practices. During one of the presentations, a young person explained that, generations removed from her Polish, German, English and Swedish ancestry and religious customs, she had lost her connection to the many cultural and religious practices of her ancestors. She was inspired by Hispanic Americans and the many other cultural families present in the United States and how they retained their cultural and religious practices and shared them with the next generation, particularly by linking devotions culture to the themes of Catholic social teaching. For decades, if not centuries, Hispanic-Latino American Catholics as a cultural family have attempted to share their cultural and religious practices with the American Church, even if it has often not been receptive. However, through the Journeying Together process, participants began to rediscover the real value of these practices.
Discussions like this can bring us closer to realizing Pope Francis’ vision of unity in cultural diversity. Although it may seem like a difficult task, these types of dialogues can serve as a model of cultural integration that goes beyond “shared” parish spaces. As synod consultation sessions begin, parishes have an opportunity to implement a true journey together and an inclusive process that can truly reflect a multicultural American Catholicism, while addressing the institutional racism that exists in our parishes. .
My hope for the synodal diocesan consultation process is that we, as an “American” church, will finally own our pan-ethnic, multiracial, and multicultural identity by listening to the voices and experiences of all cultural families in this country. Perhaps by listening and journeying together, we could find ways to celebrate our diversity within our liturgies and ministries as well as learn from our differences as we strive to be the people of God.
This can lead to another type of parish model – one that sees the Eucharist, the culminating moment of community in our faith, as a journey together, which requires us to consider each other seriously and to integrate their needs and their culture, including its language and its popular cultural-religious practices (ritual dance, for example). My hope is that the synod will move towards this new parish model, beyond shared parishes and towards an integrated parish where culturally sensitive ministries are at the heart of our work. This will result in the celebration of more multilingual Masses, the incorporation of non-European American devotions and traditions, and the integration of all cultural families into the leadership structure of all American parishes.
We will all be called to listen to the Spirit and to each other, to celebrate and pray together, to share responsibility for our mission, to respond to our baptismal call to actively participate in discernment and decision-making. of our church. Will those in leadership positions listen to voices from the peripheries?
This article also appears in the April 2022 issue of US Catholic (Vol. 87, No. 4, pages 31-35). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Picture: Flickr/Diocese of Gallup