One Church Many Cultures The Good News of Cultural Diversity Newsletter Fall/Winter 2021
Members of the One Body of Christ
By: Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, Assistant Director, Hispanic Affairs and National Encuentro Coordinator
The Census 2020 finds the United States of America on track to become a society with no majority racial or ethnic group in the not-so-distant future. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics/Latinos are the leading indicators of this dramatic demographic change as they contributed more than 50% of the population growth over the past ten years. Groups with roots in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and growing numbers of Native Americans also contributed to this growth. Such diversity is even greater in the Catholic population.
Anticipating such demographic changes, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened a national celebration in the year 2,000 to recognize and affirm the cultural diversity present in the U.S. Church. This celebration was called Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God’s House and took place in Los Angeles, CA in the Jubilee Year 2000. One of the highlights of this ground-breaking event was the Reconciliation Service that involved the participation of Catholics from all races and more than a hundred countries of origin. This intimate and sacred space, and yet on the national spotlight, gave the various cultural/ethnic groups the opportunity to express and give witness to the times when their community was hurt, isolated, and discriminated against even within the church. A spirit of prayer, and the gestures and symbols of the ritual, created a space of safety and trust that led participants to experience forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. The Reconciliation Service during the national event was a personal encounter with the risen Christ and with one another, leading many participants to conversion and communion among the Many Faces in God’s House, and offering a vision of the church for the Third Millennium.
Twenty-one years have passed since the celebration of Encuentro 2000. Without a doubt, many graced moments have been inspired by the vision and experience of Encuentro 2000, bringing healing and reconciliation in culturally diverse parishes across the country. For instance, hundreds of new parishes have welcomed Catholics living in the peripheries, mostly new immigrants, by establishing ministries in their cultural and linguistic context, bringing the total number of shared parishes to over 7,500 across the U.S.
However, today we find ourselves face to face with the reemergence of racism and xenophobia, particularly directed to Hispanics/Latinos and more specifically to Mexicans. The factors that promote anti-immigrant sentiments are many and complex ranging from the economic to the political and social realm. But behind all these factors is an ideological discourse, a narrative, that promotes fear towards immigrants, particularly Mexicans, calling them the "silent invasion." The recent targeting of Asian Pacific Islanders blamed for the pandemic, and the well-documented violence against Black and Brown people by some police agents, are other examples of discrimination and racism.
Samuel Huntington’s controversial book Who Are We? The Challenge to America’s National Identity states that “There is no American dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society, Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.” (1) But how does dreaming in English can turn a Mexican American Catholic into an Anglo-Protestant, and at what cost? And what should be expected of the thousands of immigrants coming to the United States every year mostly from the Southern Hemisphere, and almost half of them from predominantly Catholic countries?
The paradigm of the Melting Pot perhaps worked well for many white European immigrants, many of whom call themselves Anglos even when they have Italian, Irish, Polish or French backgrounds. However, it is highly questionable to say that the conquered and then isolated Native-Americans, or the enslaved Africans and their African American descendants, or the displaced Mexicans and their Mexican American descendants were ever a part of a Melting Pot nation. To various and different degrees, these communities have experienced violence and suffering ranging from extermination to slavery, from segregation to displacement. The wounds they carry as a result of these injustices are deep and still fresh. These groups have contributed to the economic, social, and cultural development of the United States with their blood and sweat, and yet, their narratives are mostly absent from public life, history textbooks, media, or political discourse. They have been silenced under what Robert Schreiter calls a narrative of the lie: “Violence tries to destroy the narratives that sustain people’s identities and substitute narratives of its own. These might be called narratives of the lie, precisely because they are intended to negate the truth of a people’s own narrative.” (2) Schreiter notes that not to accept the narrative of the lie [not to be assimilated] means resisting the breakdown of our own narrative.
People of color will soon constitute half of the U.S. population. Our stories are varied but our narratives intertwine across centuries of violence, colonialism, mestizaje-mulatez, and the search for a better life in a foreign land. How can we maintain our narratives and become a source of understanding, reconciliation, and relationship building among ourselves and with people from all different cultural and ethnic backgrounds? This involves in Schreiter’s words the quest to “Discover and embrace a redeeming narrative that can be liberated from the lie’s seductive and cunning power” (7). Schreiter points out that the process of reconciliation involves seeing the sameness in the other so that we may be strangers no longer. Seeing a fundamental difference, and embracing it, is also called for as well. This possibility opens the doors to envisioning how we can be members of the one Body of Christ while honoring our unique history and narratives. When different groups share a common space within a common boundary, they overcome the alienation that existed between them and become a new humanity (12).
How can the Church foster this narrative through a ministry of reconciliation, so healing can take place? The Church can model a process of reconciliation and healing that allows people from different cultures and ethnicities to learn from one another and develop a common narrative for a future full of hope. The Reconciliation Service during Encuentro 2000 has already given a taste of what is possible when we seek forgiveness and reconciliation among peoples from different cultures and ethnicities. My hope is that this new century we will do a better job of honoring the narratives of the various groups that constitute the United States of America while weaving together a common narrative that makes us one and strong. It is my belief that the Catholic Church can play a key role in promoting reconciliation and healing among the Many Faces in God’s House: A Catholic vision for the Third Millennium.