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

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.

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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

 

 

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.

Five Simple Ways to Thank Food Producers

vegetables-752153_1920As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope you are anticipating time with family and friends, or at least, some way to celebrate your gratitude for God’s many blessings in your life.  It is good that our nation has the wisdom to set aside a day to give thanks to God for his many blessings, as a nation, as families, or as individuals.

Among the many things for which we are most grateful are freedom, family, health, faith, and, especially on this feast of Thanksgiving, food!  In a world where hunger is a daily struggle for many, it is particularly important for us to reflect upon our many blessings.  

Thanksgiving has been a time to give thanks for another year’s harvest, and for a stable and safe food system in our country. Perhaps we could look a little deeper behind the food that we will enjoy this Thanksgiving and reflect upon the many men and women who work to put that food on our table.

Here, I am thinking of the many farmers, ranchers, growers, and field laborers who produce our food. For while we are certainly thankful for their tireless work, the circumstances in which many of our food producers labor don’t always reflect this gratitude: migrant farm workers are sometimes exploited by their employers, exposed to demeaning and harmful conditions and paid less than a livable wage; small family farmers are threatened by powerful economic pressures and are often forced to give up their way of life for the sake of “efficiency” and consumerism; and beginning farmers, those who wish to dedicate themselves to producing for others, are often faced with near-insurmountable obstacles when getting started.

This Thanksgiving, perhaps we can take the time to pray for all of them, particularly those laborers who suffer unjust working conditions.  And perhaps we may be moved beyond gratitude to some practical actions that could bring about a more just food system.

Here are five suggestions:

1. Buy local. The best way to support food producers, especially ones with smaller operations, is to do so directly with your dollars. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program or become a member of a local food co-op. Or, use a directory like Local Harvest to identify food producers in your area and make a visit!

2. Volunteer. There are a lot of organizations out there working for a more just food system, and they need your help. Check out volunteer opportunities with groups like Food Tank, Migrant Worker Justice, and the National Young Farmers Coalition.

3. Communicate with policymakers. There are some great initiatives seeking justice in our food system, but they won’t go anywhere if our policymakers don’t know they have public backing. If you want to see a food system that’s more supportive of food producers and protects the dignity of farm workers, tell your elected officials.

4. Support dedicated organizations. Groups like Catholic Rural Life are dedicated to applying Catholic social teaching to issues in agriculture. Consider supporting their good work by making a donation.

5. Spread the word! Many people are simply unaware of the need for justice in our food system. Help change that by spreading the word via social media about the importance of being grateful for and supportive of our food producers (You can start by sharing this post!)Bishop-Etienne-291

God bless you and your loved ones this Thanksgiving!

 

Bishop Paul D. Etienne is the bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., and the president of Catholic Rural Life.

 

 

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.