We Need YOU! Add Your Voice to the CSMG through the Diversity Outreach Initiative.

The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) has been bringing a collective voice on issues of poverty, war, injustice, and the promotion of human life and dignity to Capitol Hill for over three decades.  Since its beginning, offices within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have joined forces with over a dozen Catholic ministry partners, including Catholic Relief Services; Catholic Charities, USA; Catholic Climate Covenant; Society of St. Vincent de Paul; and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (which I direct) to sponsor this important annual gathering of social justice leaders from throughout the United States.  Through networking, plenaries, and workshops, participants gain an understanding of possible social, political, and cultural transformations and inevitably grow stronger in their Catholic faith as they put it into action.

The Diversity Outreach Initiative (DOI) was established over a decade ago when CSMG planning leaders recognized that important voices were missing from the gathering and visits to Capitol Hill.  These leaders decided to take action to ensure that the CSMG would more fully reflect the rich diversity of the Church. Thanks to the DOI, the Church’s social ministry has been strengthened as we reach out to Catholic ethnic, racial, and disability communities, encouraging members to lift up their voices and share the richness and diversity of their gifts to further our mission.  As part of the commitment to ensure the participation of diverse communities, the DOI offers scholarship funds which cover registration and housing expenses. Since its establishment, the DOI has enabled people of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the gathering, including students, young professionals, and seasoned advocates.

Each year brings more opportunities for DOI participants to enrich the full gathering as they serve as speakers or panelists for plenary sessions, experts in workshop sessions and in various liturgical roles.  Over the years, DOI participants have shared reflections from their experiences during morning prayer.  Several of these past reflections stand out to me:

  • Last year, Adelson Da Silva (Korá is his indigenous name), a tribal leader, offered a traditional ritual prayer that witnessed to the sacredness of creation and our common responsibility to protect it.
  • A student from an Illinois university, David, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, offered a reflection on the story of the paralyzed young man who was lowered down to Jesus through the ceiling, noting the creativity and commitment of the friends to create the access needed to bring their friend to Jesus. Of course, he urged us to go forth and do likewise!
  • The experience of Dreamers has been shared in panels, along with reflections by African-American pastoral leaders working in inner-city
  • Another year Renee, a pro-life disability advocate who also lives with cerebral palsy, focused on the richness of our Catholic social teaching which recognizes and upholds the dignity of every human person, including those which society tends to marginalize through lack of community-based services or even to eliminate through abortion and assisted suicide.

An exciting aspect of the DOI and CSMG is what happens when people return to their homes with a renewed commitment and heightened understanding of how to effect change in their local communities.  We hear back from students who organized events at their universities to raise awareness and advocate for systemic change.  We learn that anti-poverty advocates challenge the lack of affordable and accessible housing, armed with the resources and lessons learned at the CSMG.  We appreciate the feedback we receive from participants, such as Lauren who shared what attending CSMG meant for her: “I was fortunate to participate in the CSMG as a diversity candidate. It was extremely beneficial to me personally and to my Diocese. Not only did I learn so much about the Church’s position on important issues, but I was able to network and collaborate with my colleagues to plan for more effective dissemination of this information to the people we serve in eastern North Carolina.” – Lauren Green, Director of African Ancestry Ministry & Evangelization, Diocese of Raleigh.

Make plans now to join us for the CSMG 2019 from Saturday, February 2 through Tuesday, February 5 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Join the conversations on racism and restorative justice, advocacy with Asian and Pacific Island Catholics, restoring a just economy, engaging and accompanying migrants, affordable housing, ending poverty, assisting women in unplanned pregnancies, and ending the death penalty.  Learn more about CSMG here.  If you are a member of a diverse community served through the DOI, consider applying for a scholarship before November 26, 2018!

It is time to Act!  Time to Learn! Time to raise your voice for justice!  Join us for CSMG 2019!  We need YOU.

Janice Benton

 

Janice Benton, OFS is the executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) in Washington, D.C. and a professed Secular Franciscan.  

A Fierce Urgency of Now: Remembering the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

If You See Something, Say Something. This message on billboards, in airport terminals and on buses appears to be as well-branded today as Smokey the Bear’s mantra, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” was in my youth. We all want to feel safe, but the “fear” of some persons is endangering the lives of others.

Consider the following headline, currently circulating in the Black Press:  Florida Jury Awards $4 to Black Family. In St. Lucie, Florida a jury deliberated the case of a county deputy who fatally shot a Black father of three while he was listening to music in his garage. The incident began with a noise complaint by a mother picking up her child from a school across the street from the home of Gregory Hill Jr. For killing Hill and tear gassing the community, the jury awarded $1 to Hill’s mother for funeral expenses and $1 to each of his children for “loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and … mental pain and suffering.” The verdict later was reduced to $.04!

I am more than fed up with the killing of Black people on the streets, at traffic stops, on death row, in the womb or due to poverty. Yet, the distressed phone calls of “concerned citizens” reporting the presence of Black people in “white” spaces is, I believe, an old form of harassment. It is reminiscent of perceived threats and insults that have historically generated violent retaliation against the Black community – including riots and lynching. There seem to be no consequences for the caller and no repercussions for the killer.

martin-luther-king-682116-pixabayRev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put forward a “fierce urgency of now” more than 50 years ago. It resounds in the call for reparations today. Addressing reparations would interrupt the harassment trending in communities at this time. This is not an “eye for an eye” philosophy nor an equalizer for generational injustice. Petitioning for reparations has a scriptural and sacramental basis. Like the brief period of Reconstruction, there is a restorative value for the entire community.

Despite external differences, we are one human family. Right now, the spectacle on the border sense is a déjà vu experience for African Americans and American Indians whose children have historically been taken away to boarding schools or sold away. Even now, poor and vulnerable children miss out on “parental companionship, instruction . . . guidance” and protection. Until we make a serious effort to address injustices like this and make reparations to those who, throughout our history, have been denied dignity our human family will remain fractured.

Recently, I re-read Rev. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.  Generally, that iconic moment is viewed as a rallying cry for freedom, justice, and integration. However, did we forget the tangible, jobs component? Whereas the call for freedom and integration is subjective and aspirational, employment need not be elusive vapor.

Now is the time to suspend judgment about the unemployed and under-employed. Low employment for persons of color, individuals with disabilities, formerly incarcerated men and women, and poor whites is unacceptable in the United States. The income gap between average workers and the corporate elite and the wealth gap between racial groups is the rotten fruit of our present economic system. Prioritizing the Common Good would free up sufficient resources for all who need to earn a living. Many long for the dignity of work. People want jobs that pay a living wage and provide essential benefits so that they may care for their families. Countless individuals cobble together part-time jobs to afford basic needs and may still require further assistance.

As one human family, we must once again hear that urgent cry of Rev. King and work to address these societal injustices in our time. As we prepare to mark the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, here are 10 examples of innovative approaches to reparations to consider:

  1. Teach the history of all.
  2. Focus STEM initiatives on medical technology, infrastructure and ending hunger, rather than producing military systems.
  3. Establish community-based sites for learning about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
  4. Value work and workers, people over profits.
  5. Fairly compensate teachers, caretakers, people who clean the environment and beautify spaces where we live, work and play.
  6. Provide access to quality education and health care for all.
  7. End homelessness.
  8. Affirm that Black Lives indeed Matter.
  9. Honor the Sabbath.
  10. Strive to do better and be better. Don’t give up.

The message of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is relevant now more than ever. As we mark the anniversary of this historic call for justice and dignity for all our brothers and sisters, we are challenged to work for the transformation of systems and structures that prevent the flourishing of some members of our society.

Going Deeper:

Learn more about how we can work for justice in our communities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Racism page where you can find resources and tools to respond to the sin of racism.

Head Shot.Oct 2017

 

Donna Grimes is the Assistant Director of African American Affairs in the USCCB Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

 

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.

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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

Walking with Hispanic/Latino Missionary Disciples Who Witness to God’s Love

In less than two months, I will participate in the V National Encuentro alongside 3,000 other delegates and collaborators who are engaged in Hispanic/Latino Ministry in the United States. Inspired by Pope Francis’ social teaching and actions of compassion and care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable, the gathering’s theme is “Missionary Disciples, Witnesses of God’s Love.” This theme reflects the commitment Hispanic/Latinos have made as missionary disciples to go forth and serve those who are poor and suffering.

The gathering is an opportunity for participants to review and reflect on the experiences and significance of the four-year Encuentro process and generate ministerial best practices and concrete responses on how the Church can recognize the contributions Hispanic/Latinos make to parishes and dioceses and better support them. As a first-generation Hispanic/Latina immigrant, I feel honored to be part of the mission and planning process that has engaged thousands of Catholics across the U.S.

I currently serve on the National Planning Leadership Team, the Program Subcommittee Team, and Co-Chair the Planning Committee for the Justice and Peace ministerial breakout session. Each of these roles has allowed me to better understand the vision and objectives for the V Encuentro and to think creatively about the goals of the convening, one of which is to increase the participation of young and second and third generation Hispanic/Latinos. Integral to this experience has been ensuring that my work is informed by the local consultations that have happened across the country. This active listening process has allowed us to gain insights into the community’s needs and to identify areas for future growth and improvement.

The V National Encuentro is the culmination of a two-year discernment process of evangelization, mission, and consultation with parishes, dioceses and episcopal regions on the best pastoral priorities and practices needed to recognize the presence, gifts, and skills of the Hispanic/Latino community. This convening signifies a key moment for the Church as it discerns the best ways to respond to and support the multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-generational community that is actively living out their faith in parishes and dioceses across the U.S. It’s been inspiring to witness how this discernment process has served as the catalyst for developing ministries among Hispanics/Latinos during the past fifty years and will continue to do so for years to come.

The Encuentro process has served as an opportunity for all Catholics to actively engage as missionary disciples and created the space to discuss the challenges and needs Hispanics/Latinos face. This has happened at multiple levels and the data coming in from the regional Encuentros is being used to inform the discussions at the upcoming national gathering.  The process has also inspired important conversations about the best practices and opportunities for future growth and development of the Church.

As Catholics continue to engage in discussions in their local areas about how to continue strengthening Hispanic ministry in their communities, I am especially grateful for the concrete actions the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Office of Education and Outreach has taken to value the gifts of Hispanic Catholics and help bridge some of the existing gaps in the Church’s ministries. One example is the small grants program we’ve developed to help Hispanic Ministry and Social Justice diocesan staff form relationships, learn common interests, and identify areas for collaboration.

A second example is that as Diamond Sponsors of the V National Encuentro, we have offered scholarships to lay or emerging leaders who are active in diocesan or parish peace and justice ministry to attend the convening in September. Our office will also be actively engaged during the national gathering by leading the Justice and Peace ministerial breakout session and sharing numerous bilingual resources at our exhibit booth. In particular, we will be highlighting Catholic social teaching resources that will be available to everyone and are meant to complement the work Catholics are doing to continue advancing the social mission of the Church and supporting our Hispanic/Catholic brothers and sisters.

As we get closer to the V National Encuentro, I am excited to gather with so many from across the country as we discern what it means to be a Church that witnesses to God’s love.  I hope to see you there!

Ivone Guillen Photo

 

Ivone Guillen is the Catholic Social Teaching Education and Outreach Coordinator in the USCCB Office of Education and Outreach.

Breaking Down Intercultural Barriers Through Encounter

My husband was working at a parish leading Hispanic Ministry and several times he would have people at the English masses ask him, “How’s ministry going with all those Mexicans?” Being raised in Mexico himself, he was bothered by all Hispanics being lumped together. Comments like these speak to an unfortunate lack of awareness of the diversity within the Hispanic community—and they also point to a deeper issue.

There are very real obstacles to intercultural integration in our parishes and ministries. In the previous posts in this series, we have explored diversity in the Church of the United States, dimensions of culture, and intercultural communications in ministry. Module 4 of Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers challenges us to take an honest look at the obstacles of prejudice, stereotypes, and racism. This module explains what was happening in the situation described above.  It is called in-group, out-group dynamics: “Those we do not know or trust and those who seem different from ourselves in whatever way (e.g. skin color, language, customs) constitute the ‘out-group.’  We judge these individuals by different standards than those we use for our own group” (BICM, p. 22).  Some of the common ways we judge the “other” are named in Module 4: generalizing, demonizing, colonizing (seeing them as children), trivializing differences, and making them invisible.

I have found that these dynamics are usually subtler than in my opening story, but they are very much present. I remember that when I first started meeting Latin American immigrants I was surprised at the level of prejudice they had towards other Latinos from different countries or socioeconomic levels. But if I take a moment to analyze my own tendencies, I can see these in-group, out-group dynamics at play inside of me as well. I can easily generalize about a group that I don’t know and yet see all sorts of differences within my “in-group.” I recognize a lot of differences even among European Americans from different socioeconomic realities or geographical areas I’ve lived in. Someone looking from the outside could simply see people with the same skin color, language, and cultural heritage and group us all together. After recognizing these dynamics at play, it’s easier to understand how unfair it is to lump all Hispanics into one generalization.

It is possible to make progress in overcoming these barriers of prejudice and racism. As Module 4 explains, it takes an intentional and counter-cultural approach that includes breaking the silence and denial that often surround the challenges of racism. One piece of the solution is addressing the racial anxiety described by Fr. Boniface Hardin, OSB: “Our racial anxiety arises from these three areas: fear, ignorance, and guilt—thus, the FIG Complex. Intercultural leaders are called to move beyond fear and anxiety as they lead the Body of Christ into the beloved community of the Fatherhood of God” (BICM, p. 24).

Another powerful way to overcome these obstacles is to encounter the “other.”  I have a friend who is an immigration lawyer and she has shared with me countless stories of U.S. citizens who come to her to find out how to “get papers” for their friend. The faceless, nameless “other” of the undocumented immigrant has now transformed into this faith-filled, hard-working, family friend named Juan. Of course, she has to break the news to them that Juan, like millions of others, has no line to stand in to apply for residency. The point, however, is that we are much less likely to fall into the traps of generalizing, demonizing, trivializing differences, treating the “other” as children or invisible if we have been intentional about spending time encountering people in the “out-group.”

In our parishes and ministries, it will take an intentional effort, starting with the leadership, to overcome our fear, ignorance, and guilt in order to recognize and confront our own prejudices. Only then will we, as people of faith, be able to begin the work to transform the systems and policies that have helped to sustain these in-group, out-group dynamics and historically made it more difficult for certain groups to succeed. By bringing these issues into the light and finding our voice to discuss and transform them together, we will be building up the Body of Christ, the one family of God.

Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB’s webpage on Racism for information on responding to the sin of racism and other helpful resources.

Face

Patti Gutiérrez, Diocese of Owensboro

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 www.patticc.com

 

 

Analyzing Catholic and Muslim relations

“Today I wish to emphasize that the problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms: wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected,”

– Pope Francis’ Address to the Delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

My ancestor, Christian Schmidt, was a German immigrant, arriving in the United States with permission neither from his home nation nor his adopted one. His immigration was not the only challenge he and many more like him faced in the United States.

With the onset of World War I, anti-German sentiment in the United States spread like wildfire, spurred on by the president, governors, and citizens alike. Thousands of Germans were interred in camps with no due process. Per the Smithsonian, nearly half a million immigrants of Germanic descent were required to register, carry registration papers on them at all times, and could be detained and interrogated on a whim. Over half a billion dollars’ worth of finances and property were confiscated, most often on scant to no evidence of wrongdoing. In the State of Iowa, German and other foreign languages were prohibited from use over the telephone and in public places, even in church services. Churches were spied on and Christian ministers attacked who did not comply. As many as 18,000 Midwesterners were arrested under the “English only” laws during WWI. German was even banished from being taught in schools and resulted in book burnings of German texts.

The Catholic faith of so many immigrants did not help make their presence any more hospitable. Americans saw Catholics as foreign invaders owing allegiance to a foreign prince, the pope, adhering to a foreign rule of law with canon law, Roman customs, and the like.  How could Catholics possibly be trusted? They were considered incompatible with American values, according to the greater society.

This was the reality into which my own grandpa Eddie Schmidt was born in 1917. A world at war and a war at home against his people. My loved ones were guilty by association and considered enemies by the larger society.

I am reminded of these stories of my own family and German ancestors when I hear of reports about proposed laws that would outlaw the religious attire of Muslims, require Muslims to register with the government, government spying in mosques, and the many stories of fear, hate and violence directed at our Muslim brothers and sisters. There have been reports of women and girls having their headscarves torn off, women in the hijab being set on fire, and sadly, a Muslim college student was beaten to death in Wisconsin. A good friend of mine has shared with me over the years the many times he has himself experienced Islamophobic hate-speech, harassment and violence, even by public officials. Much of this stems from a lack of understanding and a great deal of misinformation about Islam and Muslims.

When such misunderstanding and lack of trust are so prevalent in our society there is no peace in our own nation, let alone our world. It is important for us as Catholics to recognize our relationship to our Muslim brothers and sisters, our neighbors. It is true that we have a very different understanding of God but the Second Vatican Council reminds us:

“The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth (Cf. St. Gregory VII, Letter III, 21 to Anazir [Al-Nasir], King of Mauretania PL, 148.451A.), who has spoken to men.”

Pope Francis, at Holy Thursday in 2016, washed the feet of people of various faiths, including a Muslim and reiterated the church’s teaching that we are all “children of the same God.”

Not only children of the same God, but Muslims have been a part of our nation’s history since its inception, even serving in the United States military in every war that America has been engaged in, including the Revolution and the current wars on terror. Though there are people committing heinous acts of terror in the name of Islam, Muslims themselves are not to be feared simply because they are Muslim.

Pope Francis in August 2016 said the following: “I don’t like to speak of Islamic violence, because every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy… and these are baptized Catholics! … If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence … I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists … I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right or true.”

Each human person made in the image of God is capable of great love and devastating evil, for we are fallen creatures. Even now there are Christian terrorists slaughtering innocents in the Central African Republic. We also recently heard the Rwandan Catholic bishops apologize for the church’s participation in the Rwandan genocide that happened a few decades ago. This allows us perspective when it comes to violence by Muslims.

Where is the violence coming from, then, if not from Islam itself? Islam is not a hierarchical faith like the Catholic Church with one single authority at the top. Islam is more closely related to rabbinical Judaism or evangelical Christianity than the structure of the Catholic Church. There is no universally accepted Muslim Magisterium. Much of the ideology of those who commit terrorism in the name of Islam is traced to an 18th century figure who sought to present a version of Islam that would serve the purpose of raising up a new dynasty on the Arabian peninsula. Over time, with the backlash against colonialism and shifting political realities, this new interpretation of Islam was manipulated for political ends by a small group and gaining adherents and becoming more militaristic. Even so, these strains of terrorism are in the minority within the Muslim world and are condemned throughout the world by Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike, not least of all because the overwhelming majority of victims from these groups are Muslims themselves.

Though not well reported here in the United States, Muslims are leading the call against terrorism. Muslims across the world have repeatedly denounced violence in the name of Islam. After Sept. 11, the people of Iran held a candlelit vigil in Tehran in solidarity with Americans and those lost to terrorism. Government leaders, religious leaders, and the Muslim faithful have condemned terrorism in the name of Islam time and again.

Let us help to build peace in our communities with our Muslim brothers and sisters by going out of our own comfort zones and meeting them in theirs. Many mosques and Islamic centers offer tours and invite guests to come and learn about their faith from the perspective of those who practice it, not filtered through uncharitable propaganda. Perhaps, attend programs like those that have been organized in the Dubuque area called “Children of Abraham” which has the goal to bring Christians, Jews, and Muslims to mutual respect and understanding. Reach out in charity to coworkers or others around you who practice Islam and get to know them on a personal level, then engage in discussion about faith with an open ear and heart. Stand up against speech and actions that attack people of different faith traditions when you encounter them, offer companionship to someone who may be attacked. In doing some of these things we can dedicate ourselves to ensure that our brothers and sisters who practice faith traditions besides our own, particularly our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters who share our lineage in Abraham, know that they are welcome in our communities, know that they are loved by us, know that they are our brothers and sisters.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth and posted during the holy month of Ramadan celebrated by our Muslim brothers and sisters around the world. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for resources on reaching out and collaborating with other faith traditions. Learn how Catholic faith communities are encountering our Muslim brothers and sisters through prayer and action, dialogue, and pen-pals relationships.

What’s Below the Surface is Affecting Your Ministry

Patti Gutiérrez, Diocese of Owensboro

Early on as a Pastoral Associate in a multicultural, rural parish I often found myself bumping up against unwritten rules of interaction and I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong.  For example, my default way of communicating about an upcoming activity was to post a blurb in the bulletin, make an announcement from the pulpit at the end of Mass and send out a mass text message via an automated service.  For our European American parishioners this worked fine, but for the growing number of Hispanic parishioners it proved completely ineffective.  We weren’t getting a good response.  Many times, I assumed it was because no one was interested.

The problem is that when people of different cultures are interacting there are dynamics at play that may not be obvious on the surface.  This is when the workshop and practical guide that was created by a task force of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM) can be extremely helpful.  In Module 2, Seek an Understanding of Culture and How It Works, we learn, “Intercultural Competence is the capacity to communicate, relate and work across cultural boundaries” (BICM, p. 9).   In order to cross these cultural boundaries better, we need new knowledge, skills and attitudes.

To provide new knowledge, Module 2 begins with an explanation of culture.  Culture can be thought of like an iceberg—there are parts you can see, but most of it is below the surface.  For example, we can see how a certain cultural group acts; we can hear their language and see their dress, their food, their dances and other cultural expressions.  But the bulk of what makes up our culture, our way of seeing the world, is unseen.  This can include our values, our beliefs, our assumptions, our perceptions and other invisible things that affect our behavior.  When we interact with others, sometimes our cultural icebergs are crashing below the surface and we are unaware of the dynamics at play.

One way to analyze culture is by looking at the dimensions defined by the Hofstede Model.  The five dimensions described in BICM can be thought of as spectrums with two extremes.  A given culture will fall somewhere along the spectrum, closer to one end or the other.  These spectrums are: 1) Collective vs. Individualistic, 2) Hierarchy vs. Equality, 3) Low vs. High Tolerance for Ambiguity, 4) Masculine vs. Feminine Gender Roles, and 5) Lived Experience vs. Abstract view of Time.  Learning more about these dimensions can help us better navigate intercultural interactions in ministry.

By learning about the collective vs. individualistic dimension, I could see how our different cultural icebergs were affecting the way Hispanic parishioners experienced my communication.  I come from New England of European American descent.  The culture I was raised in taught me to communicate directly, quickly and concisely and emphasized independence.  My culture falls on the individualistic side of the spectrum.  However, the majority of those I was communicating with were recent immigrants from rural Mexico and Guatemala, most of whom belong to an indigenous culture group.  Their culture taught them to communicate indirectly in order to emphasize respect, harmony and unity above independence.  Their culture falls on the collective side of the spectrum.  Understanding this cultural dimension helps me to communicate more effectively between cultures.

I came to understand over time that I needed to focus more on my relationships with our Hispanic parishioners as well as harness the power of working collectively.   I also came to see that there were informal hierarchies that had formed in the different sub-groups in our parish.  So, I began to foster better relationships with those who were key leaders and funnel information through them.  Now, ten years later, when there is an upcoming event I make sure that I give those key leaders all the information in a personal way and encourage them to invite their group to participate.  By using this collective method and informal line of communication, we have seen a much better response.

If you think that “cultural icebergs” may be affecting your ministry, check out Module 2 of USCCB’s Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers resource. It will surely help you like it did me!

Patti Gutiérrez has served in Hispanic Ministry for 13 years in the Diocese of Owensboro.  This reflection was adapted with permission from Patti’s eBook 5 Cultural Differences You Need to Know to Succeed in Hispanic Ministry.

How to Navigate Cultural Shifts in Your Parish

The faces of many of our parishes are changing.  The Catholic Church in the U.S. is the most ethnically diverse denomination in one of the most multicultural countries in the world.  New parishioners bring with them many gifts, insights and experiences. At the same time, changing demographics in a parish can leave others feeling overwhelmed and unequipped.  Maybe your own parish has experienced discomfort due to change.  There is hope and help!  The U.S. bishops have created a workshop and a practical guide called Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM).  This guide is broken up into five modules, the first of which is entitled, “Frame Issues of Diversity Theologically in Terms of the Church’s Identity and Mission to Evangelize.”

Growing Pains

For the past 10 years I have served in a parish whose face has been changing just like many across the country.  It’s a small parish in a small, rural town in western Kentucky that has seen enormous demographic changes over the last 20 years.  Hispanic immigrants have been moving in while the people who were raised there have been moving out and into the cities.  At our parish, St. Michael’s, about 75% of our 350 families are first and second generation Hispanic immigrants.  Of those Hispanic parishioners, the majority are from indigenous cultures with their own ancient languages and cultures.  As the introduction to BICM says, “Today’s urban and suburban parishes are becoming ‘shared’ or multicultural parishes.  They find themselves serving a daunting combination of nationalities, language groups, cultures, and races” (p. xiii).  Sometimes this shift comes with seemingly constant growing pains and cultural clashes.  I’m reminded of a recent situation during our Saturday vigil mass in English.  Our parish is always open and people pop in at all times of the day or night to pray, especially people from cultures where doing so is the norm.  When a woman and her three kids came in to pray right in the middle of Mass, kneeling in the corner by St. Michael with her candle, praying out loud in her native language, while the three kids climbed around and played behind her, some of those attending Mass felt distracted the confused.  Thankfully those participating in Mass were understanding, helped manage the kids, and Mass continued.

BICM Provides Guidance

As part of my efforts to help my own parish navigate these growing pains and cultural clashes, I attended a BICM workshop and found it extremely useful—even after so many years of being immersed in Hispanic cultures through family and ministry.  The workshop helped participants name the cultural dynamics we experience as well as see the natural stages and movements most parishes follow as we work to integrate new groups into the parish.  It was also helpful to be encouraged to use neutral terms.  For example, to speak of the prevailing culture instead of saying predominant, which expresses more power.  And then there’s the problem of what we call each group.  While recognizing there is diversity even in each group, we still need a respectful way to speak about each other.  We were always running into this in our parish—do we say Americans, Anglos, whites, English-speaking, non-Hispanics?  None of those seem to fit.  At BICM we were taught that the USCCB has decided to say: 1) European Americans, 2) Hispanic/Latinos, 3) African Americans, 4) Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 5) Native Americans.  Even just that small change has helped me in intercultural conversations and has given us a common language.

In the first module of BICM, we were reminded of the Church’s mission to evangelize not just individuals but also cultures.  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).  In order to be faithful to our mission, we need “intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable ministers of the Gospel to proclaim Christ’s message effectively among all nations” (BICM, p. 5).  These are necessary at all levels of ministry – from the leadership to the people in the pews.

Patti Gutiérrez has served in Hispanic Ministry for 13 years in the Diocese of Owensboro.  Her reflection was adapted with permission from Patti’s Catholic Corner.

Going Deeper
Visit the webpage of the USCCB Secretariat for Cultural Diversity for more information about intercultural competencies and other useful resources.

Improving relationships between whites and people of color

“We’re bringing slavery back.” These words were told to a friend of mine’s 10-year-old son recently while at school in Indiana. He is black and faced taunts and harassment at school for several days. When his mom attempted to contact the teacher to address the issue she received no reply.

I myself have experienced such prejudice first-hand on many occasions. Several years ago a devoted Catholic woman whom I consider a part of my family discovered I was dating a black woman and told me “I’m not one of those KKK people but I think there are enough white women that you shouldn’t be dating [a black woman].”

As we look around our modern times we can clearly see that racism still exists in our society. Hate crimes are on the rise, white supremacy and white nationalism are coming back into the mainstream. An Associated Press survey, conducted in 2012 with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago, found that 51% of participants held explicitly racist views toward black people. A similar study was done in 2011 and 52% of those participants reported anti-Hispanic attitudes. Such prejudice was found across the partisan spectrum.

Archbishop Kurtz in 2015, then-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), spoke on the effects of racism in America: “A violent, sorrowful history of racial injustice, accompanied by a lack of educational, employment and housing opportunities, has destroyed communities and broken down families, especially those who live in distressed urban communities. Confronted by these realities, the familiar words of Blessed Pope Paul VI still resonate and continue to call us to action in our day: if you want peace, work for justice …The bishops called for decisive action to eradicate racism from society and considerable progress has been made since 1979. However, more must be done.”

We can see the reality of racial injustice and disparity that Archbishop Kurtz speaks of in our own state of Iowa.

The Iowa Data Center reports that the median income for black families was roughly half that of the general population of Iowa in 2014. The poverty rate in the black population is nearly three times that of Iowa’s population as a whole. And the unemployment rate for black citizens is three times that of the general population in Iowa.

These disparities are also prevalent in our criminal justice system. Throughout our nation data frequently shows that black citizens are more likely to be stopped and searched even though white citizens are often equally or even more likely to be in possession of illegal paraphernalia compared to black citizens. Black citizens are also more likely to be convicted and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as compared to white citizens.

According to the Sentencing Project, a non-partisan organization that studies racial disparities in incarceration and promotes restorative justice alternatives to prison, nearly 26% of Iowa prisoners are black while only 3% of the total state population is black. The state of Iowa is in the top five of highest incarceration disparity rates for black folk, with a rate more than 11 times that of whites. For Latinos the disparity is much smaller, though the incarceration rate is still almost double that of whites.

Despite these disparities, there are reasons to be hopeful for positive change. The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court remarked in his State of the Judiciary address in 2015 on the efforts by law enforcement, school officials, community members, and others to work with a restorative justice approach to help reduce this disparity and provide more support to those in need.

The Chief Justice noted: “Iowa may be a leader in the nation in the statistics showing racial disparities in its criminal justice system, but…Iowa can also lead the nation in finding solutions to end racial disparities.”

A shining example of the good work towards peace and justice in our own state is that Iowa was first in the nation to pass a “racial impact” law in 2007 that required any increase in penalties or creating new crimes be studied to see how such legislation could potentially impact people of color disproportionately compared to white citizens to help prevent racially motivated laws to be enacted. More still needs to be done.

In the face of these somber facts a task force was convened by the USCCB and chaired by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. His recent report to the November Assembly of U.S. bishops recommended that the faithful engage in prayer for peace in our communities, open channels of dialogue with communities affected by racism, and that the church “find its bold prophetic voice” among other things.

Dialogue asks of us to leave our own places of comfort where we dominate and reach out to others so that we may hear their stories and their experiences. This can be challenging when others’ experiences do not readily match up to our own personal perspectives or experiences, but this makes dialogue even more important especially if we are not the ones regularly receiving the insults, oppression, and hate of racism.

We can begin to engage in such a dialogue by reading books and experiencing art and culture by people of ethnic backgrounds different from our own, greet one another on the street with smiles and charitable “hellos”, engage in conversation with others from various backgrounds, contact organizations that serve predominantly people of color and ask if you can make a visit and hear their stories, and speak out when you encounter racism in your own life. These are just a few ways for us to engage in building peace and nurturing relationships with our neighbors.

Our Catholic faith also has a vast treasure to be discovered in the lives of saints from across the globe. There are more saints of the African continent than the entire continent of North America. Several American saints, or those in the process toward sainthood, have African, Native American, Latino and Pacific heritage. Discover these holy men and women like Venerable Pierre Touassaint, St. Kateri Tekawitha and Servant of God Thea Bowman, to name a few. Pray for their intercession that there may be greater peace in our communities, stronger bonds of solidarity between peoples, and pray for the strength and courage to evaluate our own lives to discover how we can more readily participate in bringing about greater peace in our communities.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Learn about how parishes in one part of the country are engaging in dialogue through Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action). Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for helpful resources like “A Guide to Dialogue on Difficult Issues” and “Encouraging Civil Dialogue.”

Engaging in a ‘racial examination of conscience’

“Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, the Church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and its own structures. Our concern over racism follows, as well, from our strong commitment to evangelization…We would betray our commitment to evangelize ourselves and our society were we not to strongly voice our condemnation of attitudes and practices so contrary to the Gospel.”

—‘Brothers and Sisters to Us, USCCB’

In light of the need for our society to heal from the sin of racism, I want to offer a simple “racial examination of conscience” to help each of us reflect on how we may grow as persons and children of God in our hospitality, love, and mercy for all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race or religion.

This “racial examination of conscience” is not intended to implicate anyone as a racist. It is not a “test” to see how racist you are or are not. It is offered in all charity and humility as an opportunity to reflect on our daily lives and how we may be unaware of the impact that our everyday decisions have on ourselves, members of our community, nation, and world. Just as an examination of conscience before going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not intended to demean or shame anyone, neither is this particular examination of conscience. When we approach the confessional it is through our honesty and our sorrow that we are offered mercy from God and help to restore not only our personal relationship with God, but to offer restoration to a world we have harmed through our actions, even those of which we are unware. Research shows that many of us act towards others based on implicit, or unknown, bias. Most of us believe in the equality of all people and assume that such a belief is enough. There are many studies done regarding implicit bias, one such study by researchers at Northwestern University show clear findings that implicit bias does shape how we act towards others especially when it comes to our perception of others as threats. This type of research shows us that even those of us who believe all people are truly equal, other factors, especially those unknown to us, can lead us to act in a way that does not truly reflect our personal beliefs. This list of questions is not exhaustive but may be a good start in discovering our biases in ourselves, bring them to the light, and then work to correct them so that our actions mirror our personal beliefs.

  • Do I interact with people who are different from me outside of work or school?
  • Do I read books or stories written by people of different ethnic or religious heritage than myself?
  • Have I taken the time to listen to the voices of others who don’t look like me or have a different background and life experience than me?
  • If in a supervisor role, have I included people of various cultural or ethnic backgrounds when developing professional guidelines and/or dress codes?
  • Have I ever said the following phrases or something similar: “she’s pretty for a black girl” or “he’d be handsome if he wasn’t so dark” or “that little girl would be cute if her mom did her hair” or other such judgments on beauty and acceptance?
  • Have I ever asked someone about their heritage or ethnicity by asking “so, what are you?”?
  • Have I ever seen someone on the street and made a judgement based on how they dress, how their hair is styled, how they walk, how they speak?
  • Have I ever participated in or laughed at jokes or comments that belittle or denigrate people who don’t look like me or practice a different faith than me?
  • Do I blame the victims who suffer poverty and/or oppression for their plight?
  • Do I try to come up with excuses for things I do or say that are perceived as racist or harmful by others?
  • Do I dismiss the concerns or observations of others as simply being “overly sensitive” or being “PC”?
  • Do I ask someone that I am an acquaintance with in social or professional settings to speak for their entire culture?
  • Do I use a friend or family member who is of a different background than my own to “prove” that I have said or done nothing wrong?
  • Have I ever said “I’m not racist, but…”?
  • Do I always speak to others from different backgrounds with respectful tone and language?
  • Do I automatically associate negative attributes to an entire group of people?
  • Do I use dehumanizing language about others, referring to people as “thugs, animals, illegals,” etc.?
  • Do I categorize other ethnicities into groups like “good” and “troublesome”?
  • When trying to show a broad ethnic representation for my community or institution, do I randomly place minorities in advertisements? Do I ask for input on how advertisements may be perceived outside of my own culture?
  • Do I take the time to learn and listen to the stories of others’ lives in order to better understand them and the challenges they may face that I do not?
  • Do I see Jesus Christ in each and every person I encounter every single time? Do I love each and every person regardless of their heritage, the choices they have made, their status in society, or the perception I may have of them?

Once you finish praying and reflecting upon these questions I invite you to read “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” a document by the US Catholic Bishops on our relationship with migrants and refugees in our midst.

Let us all seek peace and harmony in our communities and see each and every of our brothers and sisters as Jesus Christ in our midst. And let us pray to the saints to guide us and our nation towards healing.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.


Going Deeper!

Visit the USCCB Racism page for the U.S. Catholic bishops examination of conscience on racism and other materials to help you work for racial justice.