Our Diversity Is Our Strength

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

When I was director of the Office of Black Catholics I was often asked these questions: “Why do we need an Office of Black Catholics? Doesn’t that promote division among us?”

These questions indicate the need to acknowledge that diversity is a part of who we are as a community. This outreach is not an indication of our divisions as much as it is an indication of the beauty of our diversity.

We need look no further than Scripture to see the place of diversity in the church. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds us of who we are as members of the body of Christ: “As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one spirit” (1Cor. 12:12-13). St. Paul’s message resonates for us today as we face the new reality of the church as being diverse within its unity.

Recognizing and addressing the need to have leadership reflect the face of the faithful has at times been a slow process. Our diversity is our strength and our beauty. We are a “patchwork quilt” of many pieces and each piece brings with it its own beauty that should not be lost within the overall quilt.

The message found in the New Testament is that we are all one in Christ, that we are our brothers’ keepers, and that God shows us how to be one with our brothers and sisters, as He became one of us. We, as followers of the Lord, must do all we can to mirror the life of Christ, we in leadership positions all the more. I call this “empathic leadership.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has reminded us that the shepherds must take on the smell of the sheep. By that, I believe that he also means that the shepherds should also look like the sheep.

As I look around me, today, I do not see a clergy and religious that reflect the reality of our present demographics. In this age of the New Evangelization, it is very important that the actions of the Church match the words of the Church. If the New Evangelization is to be a new beginning, then those who lead must be culturally, racially, and ethnically representative of the faithful. How can this be done?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is involved in a number of efforts to help.  For many years, I have served on the planning committee for the Diversity Outreach Initiative (DOI) at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. The goal of DOI is to develop leaders from diverse Catholic communities for ministry in the Church.  The initiative expresses our commitment to strengthen the Church’s social ministry by reaching out to Catholic ethnic, racial, and disability communities and encouraging members to lift up the richness and diversity of their gifts in our shared mission.

The USCCB has also adopted several priorities to assist ministers in the recognition of cultural diversity as a reality in the Church today and how it can be lived on a day-to-day basis. The USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church has taken up this challenge and created a way to begin to address ministry to the faithful in a more useful way. The result is the “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers” (BICM) program. The aim of BICM is to foster sensitivity to the various cultural, spiritual and worldviews that all who minister in the church will encounter in the “vineyard of the Lord.” The committee has identified six cultural “families” to be ministered to in the United States: African Americans, Native Americans, Asia and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos, migrants/refugees/travelers, as well European Americans. Ministering with sensitivity to the culture of those we encounter is one way to start to reclaim and to reactivate the missionary call, which is the very core of the life of the church.

If we are to grow the church in the “fields” we wish to evangelize, we need to actively grow the leaders from among those we evangelize. This means that our seminaries must be actively seeking vocations from men who come from those who make up the faithful in our area. We cannot just invite them, we must go out and “make disciples”. Our diocesan offices must be populated by people who look like the faithful. We must be all things to all people.

The church must embrace our diversity as strength and not as a weakness. We must thank God for the wonder of the diversity of his creation and use it as he intended, so that all may be one and share his love with all.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.  

Learn more about building unity in diversity and developing diverse leaders at We are Salt and Light, a project of Justice, Peace and Human Development/USCCB.

The Blessings, Challenges, and Opportunities of Rural Ministry

Bryce Evans, Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity

Bryce Evans, Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity

This past August, seminarians from the third year theology class at the Saint Paul Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota gathered for a week-long class on Catholic ministry in rural settings.  The course was led by Mr. Jim Ennis, national director of Catholic Rural Life, and Dr. Christopher Thompson, academic dean and professor of Moral Theology at the Saint Paul Seminary. PresentationFs on Catholic Rural Life included reflections from clergy engaged in rural ministry, discussion of Pope’s latest encyclical on the care of creation, and tours of local farms owned and operated by Catholic parishioners.

The week afforded us a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon a much-overlooked aspect of contemporary Catholic life: the unique blessings and challenges of rural ministry, along with the powerful opportunities it presents for evangelization and cultural renewal.

These can be easy to forget in an age in which the population is ever more concentrated in urban communities. Often this is at the expense of depleted rural communities, which, in the face of smaller family sizes and economic pressures, have survived in many places only through a more and more industrialized farming practice.  This is not to say that there are not yet many vibrant small communities to be found across our country. There surely are. But it can be easy for the Church today to focus its attention on “where the people are” as the primary place for the gospel to “confront the culture.” In doing so, we can neglect and underestimate the possibilities of “smaller places.”

There is a power in growing things, as there is a power in places that daily confront us with God’s handiwork in these growing things. Such places can teach us basic lessons and values that can easily get overshadowed in cityscapes, dominated as these are by what Pope Francis calls the “technocratic paradigm” and the illusion that human industry is the source of all things. The country, by contrast, confronts us with life, unplanned and unmanaged abundance, a force and a power in things that precedes all human invention. It connects us to the Creator, and helps people to find their place in the great symphony of created things.

In short, field and air, plant and animal have a knack for opening people up to God, far better than steel and concrete.

One of the matters discussed during the course of our week was the risk that even this place of opening might be effectively closed-up through the industrialization of farming and the simultaneous squeezing out of once vibrant communities. But this risk carries with it an opportunity to become a primary place for the re-assertion of basic human values, values that our society is in grave danger of forgetting.

If symphonies and galleries forget beauty, universities truth, and governments goodness, perhaps it is here, through the pulpit, altar, celebration, and discipleship of the rural parish, that we can witness the re-birth of culture (always necessary) through the re-integration of worship, community, and the tilling of the land.  It is no coincidence that culture and cultivation share the same word as their root (cult is Latin for worship).

For this seminarian, the biggest take-away from our week of considering the realities of rural Catholic life was excitement at the possibilities latent in such a ministry. A rural ministry demands great imagination and investment, but at the same time promises great yield.

As one of our presenters suggested to us in class, perhaps the best place to plant the seeds of the new evangelization is the place where seeds are planted in the dirt. As Our Lord put it: the fields are ripe for the harvest.


Bryce Evans is a third year seminarian at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, studying for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul-Minneapolis.

Be the One . . .

Insult has broken my heart, and I despair; I looked for compassion, but there was none, for comforters, but found none.
Psalm 69:21

On the back of a holy card depicting Christ and bearing the words, “I looked for one that would comfort me and I found none,” Blessed Teresa of Calcutta wrote the words, “Be the one.”

Mother Teresa oriented her life toward being the one who answered the Lord’s call, a call from the Cross to satisfy his thirst, a thirst for all people to come to know and love him. “Be the one . . . be the one who will satiate the Thirst. Instead of saying ‘I Thirst’ say ‘be the one.’ . . . do whatever you believe God is asking you to do to be the one to satiate Him” (Come Be My Light, pp. 260-261).

We hear this same call to action in the words of Pope Francis today:

“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, 20).

Our call is to new ways of engagement and encounter, but not merely in a strategic or tactical sense, as important as those considerations are.

Our call to encounter others, to go forth and be the ones to satisfy his thirst in all settings, is a deeply personal one. We are being urged to step out of ourselves, to reach to uncomfortable lengths, to take great risks that we know only his grace can make fruitful. If we embrace this call, our lives should radically change!

We will then take the time to ask, in every moment and every encounter, “What do you want me to do, Lord?”

We will look into the eyes of the person who comes up to us begging for money or food and be the ones to ask them their name, seeking true relationship and at least finding something about which we can pray for them.

We will seek healing in our own families and be the ones to end stubborn fights or admit our own failings first, so that we may live mercy and love in our own homes.

We will be the ones to give of ourselves to transform our parishes and communities into places where we seek to know and meet one another’s needs; rather than watch from the sidelines as our brothers and sisters struggle and suffer, we will make the Christian community what it is truly meant to be – a place where one is transformed and care for one another is always a risk worth taking.

We will be the ones to bring the teachings of our faith into our workplaces, friendships and into the public square, that others may know that our social structures can be just, at the service of the human person. We will see in the struggle of the worker, the plight of the immigrant, and those caught in a cycle of violence and imprisonment here and abroad, opportunities to be the ones to engage.

The splendor of this message impels us to a life away from lethargy. Every second of our existence can be a beautiful testament to God, and we must seize these moments as we do the very air we breathe. This very day, let us stop looking around to see if others are ready to act; instead, let us be the ones.
Rholena chromatic headshot

Mark Rohlena is the director of domestic social development in the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Let us go forth, then…

 Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 49

No person ever walked away unchanged from a moment spent with Jesus. When he looked into the eyes of someone suffering, Jesus did not first see a problem or injustice, he saw a person. His encounter with them was always a personal one that left no doubt that the one before him was deeply loved. How often in the Gospel we see Jesus providing us an example of true encounter. Can we ignore that most of these encounters take place outside the temple, often with those who would never have been welcomed or interested in worshiping there?

“To go forth.”  We have chosen this title for our new blog with great intention. Our mission, taken from Jesus himself (Mt. 28:19), is to go forth to all who are in need, who while they are on the margins of our society, are in fact at the center of the heart of Christ. But when we go forth, we go forth the way Jesus did—to meet people, to encounter them.

Our present age encourages transactional relationships –in buying or selling, seeking greater levels of productivity and efficiency, running from meeting to meeting in endless activity, even in our charitable works.

And yet, we have all met at least one person in our lives who made us feel as if we were the only person that mattered in the world to them, even if for just a moment. No doubt every person who left an encounter with Jesus felt this, even if they were not ready to follow him. To encounter others means to be more than transactional about transmitting God’s love. If we end an encounter without knowing the other more deeply, have we encountered them at all? Pope Francis uses this word encounter repeatedly. It is always coupled with his exhortation to go to the margins. In a speech to the bishops of Brazil, Pope Francis asked the simple question: “When you give alms to someone do you look them in the eye or do you simply toss them some charity and walk away? If you do not touch them, you have not encountered them… We must build a culture of encounter.”

As difficult as it can be sometimes, we are called to truly engage with others every day of our lives. We must not miss God’s image and likeness in the person before us. Every person we meet is due a love and respect equal to their high dignity as a daughter or son of God.

We have many hopes for this new blog. This will be a forum that explores the Church’s teaching, while at the same time considering very practical issues that confront us as individuals and at the level of the greater common good. It will allow us to consider issues that affect U.S. concerns, but also to tackle ideas and challenges with global and international dimensions. Even with heavy doses of reality and challenge, we will try to achieve a balance with the hope that comes from sharing ideas, stories and inspiration. This blog will be the product of numerous voices, expanding our vision and creating conversation. But these goals all serve a higher purpose: it is our sincere desire that this blog will encourage all of us to go forth and to truly encounter the other; and, in encountering the other, to come to know and love Jesus himself in ever deeper ways.

Reyes photo GuadalupeDr. Jonathan Reyes is executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.