Becoming One Church: Practical Steps for Multicultural Integration in Church Settings

As I wrote in the first post of this series exploring the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ resource Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM), “The Church is called to represent the communion of the Trinity, ‘to mirror that communion of Divine Persons in the way it welcomes and gathers all peoples – every tribe and tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9)’” (BICM, p. 4).  After exploring the new intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed in ministry in the previous modules, in this last post of the series, we will look at Module 5 of BICM, which offers practical advice and next steps.

Module 5, titled Foster Ecclesial Integration Rather Than Assimilation in Church Settings with a Spirituality of Hospitality, Reconciliation, and Mission, begins by describing the experiences of both parish leadership and the “newcomer” to the community as they go through the process of integration through the spiritual terms of encounter, conversion, communion, solidarity, and mission.  Often, in the early stages of this process “New immigrants feel discouraged by their difficult situation as foreigners in a foreign land; economic, family, and immigration issues; the Catholic parish’s doors remaining closed to them,” while, “parish leadership is obsessed with expecting new immigrants to just come through the door and fit in—speak English, assimilate, and ‘be like us’” (BICM, p. 27).

Maybe you have experienced similar feelings and challenges in your own parish or ministry.  I know I have.  In parishes that are becoming more diverse, I’ve heard those who have been members for a long time express a feeling of being a divided community because of the new culturally specific ministries emerging.  There is an assumption that once the “newcomer” becomes accustomed to the community there won’t be a need for ministry in different languages or focused on different cultural traditions.

In the BICM training, we were reminded that the Church has always called for integration rather than assimilation: “Through the policy of assimilation, new immigrants are forced to give up their language, culture, values, and traditions . . . By [ecclesial] integration we mean that all [cultural/ethnic communities] are to be welcomed to our church institutions at all levels. They are to be served in their language when possible, and their cultural values and religious traditions are to be respected. Beyond that, we must work toward mutual enrichment through interaction among all our cultures” (National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, no. 4).

That is not to say that integration is easy.  Module 5 describes a process of ecclesial integration that includes “four major thresholds: welcoming, Catholic identity, sense of belonging, and sense of ownership. Each threshold has movements or steps and requires certain communication competencies” (BICM, p. 30).    

In my own parish ministry, I often wished we could skip ahead in the process of integrating our culturally diverse parish.  After studying this process of integration, however, I learned to respect the stage that we were in and focus our pastoral planning on developing what we needed to move forward toward the next stage.  This helped me to recognize that the process we were undergoing was natural and that others had been there and successfully moved forward.

For example, instead of lamenting the fact that we didn’t have Hispanic leaders who were vocal on the parish council (which comes in the ownership stage), we focused our energy on building a sense of belonging and providing opportunities for formation.  After allowing the Hispanic community to develop a sense of belonging, I started to see glimpses of what is described as the later stages of integration: ″All members of the parish community, both well-established and new arrivals, are fully aware that they are called to take care of one another. From their separate stories and narratives, they begin to generate a common narrative that is centered in the grace of the Resurrection and our experience of reconciliation” (BICM, p. 28-29). There will always be room for improvement and there will always be people or groups of people within the parish at different stages of integration, but overall, I see our progress and growth as a community.

I hope this exploration of the Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers program has informed, inspired, and equipped you to “proclaim Christ’s message effectively among all nations” (BICM, p. 5).  May we all ″be willing to be a bridge-builder rather than a gate-keeper” (BICM, p. 32).

Going Deeper

For more information about how to assist your parish community with this process of multicultural ecclesial integration, and for pastoral planning strategies read Best Practices for Shared Parishes: So That They All May Be One.

Face

 

After working in Hispanic Ministry at the diocesan and parish levels in Western Kentucky for 14 years, Patti Gutiérrez now blogs about ministry and offers resources for Catholic ministries at http://www.patticc.com

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