Module 5

Foster Ecclesial Integration Rather Than Assimilation in Church Settings with a Spirituality of Hospitality, Reconciliation, and Mission


1.  To experience a spirituality that supports intercultural ministry and reconciliation

2.  To focus on the developmental process for ecclesial integration and inclusion, specifically in diverse parish settings, including competencies for

  • Building relationships
  • Effective communication
  • Decision making

3.  To identify models for effective pastoral responses, principles, and practices that shape fruitful ministry in intercultural settings


  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of the principle of ecclesial integration versus assimilation.
  • Identify different parish models in the context of cultural diversity and a spirituality of mission and reconciliation.
  • Apply the developmental process of ecclesial integration and its five principles to one's own parish or Catholic institution.

This module offers an appropriate spirituality to support intercultural ministries and practical applications. It includes a developmental process for ecclesial integration, intercultural relationships, and stewardship. The process shows how parish members reach a new sense of Catholic identity, belonging, and ownership. The module also explores generational differences among new immigrants and offers pastoral principles to develop effective intercultural ministries.

The module is written mostly from the perspective of the new immigrants and the communities that receive them. However, for the purpose of our study of ecclesial integration, where it says "immigrant," it can also be read "newcomer."

There may be cases where those new to the parish family or to the neighborhood are not necessarily immigrants from other countries but members of other ethnic, racial, or cultural groups. It may also be the case that the "newcomers" are members of a community that has always "been there," but they were either neglected or ignored and now ask for inclusion.

Spirituality for Intercultural Ministry and Reconciliation

For intercultural ministry to be effective, it will need a lived spirituality to support it. It is one thing to have knowledge, ability, and skills in the area of intercultural relations, but it is quite another to be motivated to act on what one knows. The Church embodies a spirituality of encounter, conversion, communion, solidarity, and mission. Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America articulates this spirituality.

The Methodology of "The Church in America"

Catholic identity: Encounter with Christ leading to conversion, which means to "turn one's mind and heart around."

Communion: The communion of the Church, rooted in God's love, offers all people the sense of identity, purpose, and community they seek.

Solidarity: A firm and persevering determination to commit oneself (and a whole faith community) to the common good.

The "Going Fishing" Response

A particularly poignant example of how pastoral ministers sometimes remain paralyzed in the face of new challenges like the ones posed by diversity is found in Chapter 21 of St. John's Gospel. We read about the encounter of the disciples with Jesus after his Resurrection and learn how he made breakfast for them.

Discouraged by the loss of their Master, the disciples try to go back to what they did before they met Jesus. In today's multicultural context, parish leaders may also experience the "Going Fishing" response:

The parish leadership may feel

  • Discouraged because many new immigrant Catholics living around them do not go to Mass or participate in parish activities
  • Uneasy about the presence of new immigrants and wonder if they are "illegals"

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 (i.e., nothing is offered in their language, access to parish facilities is denied, their faith symbols are not welcome in the church, or they are relegated to worship in the basement)


Daylight breaks. A stranger appears on the shore and asks them about their fishing in a caring and familiar tone. By doing this, Jesus helps them break the cycle of their obsession.

One example:

Parish leadership

Is obsessed with expecting new immigrants to just come through the door and fit in—speak English, assimilate, and "be like us"

″New immigrants

Are homesick

Sometimes feel that they deserve to be excluded

An encounter with the Living Jesus Christ is the point of departure for Christian discipleship. Some encounters with Jesus mentioned in the Gospel are clearly personal, as when Jesus summons someone to follow him (Mt 9:9; Mk 2:13-14; Lk 5:27-28). In these cases, Jesus deals with familiarity with his hearers: "Rabbi, where are you staying? . . . Come and see" In other cases, the encounters are communal in nature, as when Jesus spoke to the Twelve: "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Mt 13:11). The Church is the place where men and women, by encountering Jesus, can come to know the love of the Father (Jn 14:9) through the powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, transforming believers and giving them new life.


It is only when they lower the nets on the other side, when they are free from their obsession, that they are able to recognize who has been standing on the shore.

One example:

″Parish leadership realizes that

■ The presence of new immigrants in their midst is a blessing from God

■ They need to reach out to them, for Jesus is also present among them

■ Their call to go out and make disciples is rekindled

″New immigrants

■ Free themselves from thinking only about their economic needs and from their homesick state of mind

■ Begin to seek God, rekindling their hope for the Good News

Conversion was at the heart of Jesus' message. Conversion, or metanoia in Greek, means "to turn one's mind around." This means turning away from sin and turning toward God. In an intercultural ministry, we turn away from the sins of racism and prejudice. We turn toward the image and likeness of God to be found in each human being, including the "other" and those who are "different." The New Testament stories of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) and Jesus' encounters with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30) and the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:4-42) are examples of what intercultural ministry should be trying to do.

Conversion means both a conversion of our hearts and the conversion of those social structures and biases that perpetuate racism and discrimination.


Jesus becomes the gracious host, cooking for them and inviting them to contribute their own newly caught fish.

″Parish leaders follow Jesus' example as gracious hosts by welcoming the new immigrant community; taking into account their culture, language, expectations, and contributions; and realizing that the "guests" should soon become "hosts" like them.

″New immigrants feel at home in an environment of trust, kindness, and safety.

The communion of the Church, rooted in God's love, is called to offer all people the sense of identity, purpose, and community they seek. Claimed by Christ and baptized into the Holy Spirit, Catholic people from all generations, cultures, races, immigration statuses, and social situations have become full members of the Church, and all are worthy of the love, the respect, and the support of the entire Christian community. In a society that is increasingly diverse and to some extent divided, we must urgently proclaim with joy and firm faith that through our "communion with Christ . . . we enter into living communion with all believers" (Ecclesia in America, no. 33). Living out a theology of communion entails creating greater harmony among peoples. It does not call for the erasure of difference; rather, it brings differences into harmony with one another. An intercultural ministry must be one that welcomes the stranger and works out of an understanding of the Church as communion in which collaboration is central to pastoral service (what in Hispanic ministry is understood as pastoral de conjunto). As such, it is a manifestation of the catholicity of the Church.


Jesus asks Simon, son of John, "Do you love me?"

″Jesus reconnects the parish leadership to himself and to the community, more specifically to new immigrants.

″They overcome stereotypes and fear by getting to know new immigrants and recognizing each of them as one of their own.

″Parish leaders rediscover that the victim is made in the image and likeness of God and is therefore of inestimable value.

″Jesus reconnects new immigrants to himself and to the community, ending the isolation that severs trust.

″Jesus empowers new immigrants to reclaim their self-worth.

″God's grace restores their humanity.

Pope John Paul II defines the virtue of solidarity as "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself [and a whole faith community] to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all" (Sollicitudo rei socialis, no. 38). This understanding of solidarity is based on the belief in the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of every human person, which is deeply rooted in the Gospel and articulated in Catholic social teaching. Solidarity is manifested in a special way in advocacy: for immigrants and the poor, for respect for life from conception to natural death, against discrimination, for the integrity of families, and for justice and peace in a globalized world.


Jesus commissions Simon Peter by telling him to feed his sheep. Once again, Peter is the Rock upon which the community is built. Peter's vocation to care for Jesus' flock allows him to remember his own past in a different way and to help create a community where trust is nurtured so that denial will never happen again.

″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.

″We all partake in what God has done for us in Christ.

The burning desire to invite others to encounter the Living Jesus Christ is the start of the evangelizing mission to which every Catholic is called. This mission is the grace and vocation proper to the Church and her most profound identity (see Ecclesia in America, no. 68).

The entire Church is missionary by its very nature. Each baptized person is called to missionary discipleship of Jesus Christ. This means reaching out and establishing relationships with others, especially those on the margins of society, the poor, and the forgotten. Bringing the Good News to an increasingly culturally diverse population takes us out of the church building, the parish facilities, and the weekly meetings of parish groups. It moves us from pews to shoes to go two by two into the public schools, the neighborhoods, the workplace, the movie theaters, the dance halls, the labor camps, and wherever else Catholic people gather.

Reconciliation as Spirituality for Intercultural Contexts

We all have been victims and wrongdoers at some point in our lives. Intercultural contexts can sometimes give rise to situations in which people feel they have been wronged, treated unfairly, or dehumanized. That is why reconciliation is an integral part of our identity and well-being—of our very lives as Christians.

In The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategies, Fr. Robert J. Schreiter offers the following observation on the nature of reconciliation from a Christian perspective:

First of all, reconciliation is the work of God, who initiates and completes in us reconciliation through Christ. Ultimately, reconciliation is not a human achievement, but the work of God.

Furthermore, God initiates the work of reconciliation in the lives of the victims. Ordinarily we would expect reconciliation to begin with the repentance of the wrongdoers. But experience shows that wrongdoers are rarely willing to acknowledge what they have done or come forward of their own accord. If reconciliation depended entirely upon the wrongdoers' initiative, there would be next to no reconciliation at all.

God begins with the victim, restoring to the victim the humanity which the wrongdoer has tried to wrest away or to destroy. This restoration of humanity might be considered the very heart of reconciliation. The experience of reconciliation is the experience of grace—the restoration of one's damaged humanity in a life-giving relationship with God. Humans are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). It is that image by which humanity might mirror divinity, by which humanity comes into communion with divinity, which is restored. That God would begin with the victim, and not the evildoer, is consistent with divine activity in history. God takes the side of the poor, the widowed and the orphaned, the oppressed, the marginal and the imprisoned. It is in the ultimate victim, God's son Jesus Christ, that God begins the process that leads to the reconciliation of the whole world to its Creator and Lord in Christ (Col 1:20).

In like manner, God begins the process of human reconciliation with the victim. It is through the victim that the wrongdoer is called to repentance and forgiveness. Seen from this perspective, repentance and forgiveness are not the preconditions for reconciliation, but are rather the consequences of it.

Models for Ministry in Shared and Intercultural Parishes

Parish life provides different approaches for immigrants to adapt to the prevailing culture within the Church and in society. Instituto Fe y Vida has identified some useful and currently employed parish models, namely Americanizing, personal/ethnic, inclusive, segmented, mission outreach, and integrated.

In the Americanizing parish, newcomers are welcome, but they are expected to adapt to the language and culture of the dominant group. Consequently, the parish staff need not gain special language and intercultural communication skills. Newcomers, however, do not feel welcome and experience alienation.

In the personal/ethnic parish, the community is served in its particular cultural context and language; leadership and parish staff reflect the culture of the parish; and people from other cultural groups do not participate in these parishes for the most part.

In the inclusive parish, newcomers are welcome, and some measure of accommodation is exercised regarding the music, cultural traditions, and celebrations of the immigrant group.

In the segmented parish, the parish becomes one of parallel communities, each of which has its own staff.

In the mission outreach parish, the predominant group tries to reach out to the other cultural groups, and so it develops some language and intercultural communication skills.

In the integrated parish, all cultural groups are equitably and suitably served. There will be residual resentment on the part of the various groups, and some groups will need help embracing such integration.

These parish models constitute a developmental continuum rather than separate modalities. This process is propelled by a spirituality of hospitality, reconciliation, and mission, and it presents four major thresholds: welcoming, Catholic identity, sense of belonging, and sense of ownership. Each threshold has movements or steps and requires certain communication competencies.

Ministry with new immigrant communities seeks the healthy inclusion or integration of newcomers into the life and mission of the Church, particularly the parish. In a recent study, CARA shows that 33 percent of parishes in the United States celebrate Mass in a language other than English, compared with 22 percent in 2000 ("U.S. Catholic Parishes Grow in Size and Diversity," The CARA Report 16:3 [Winter 2011]). The great majority of these parishes are "shared" by two or more distinct cultural/ethnic communities. The shared parish model strives to achieve a high level of ecclesial integration among its diverse members in a spirit of unity in diversity.

Ecclesial Integration and Inclusion versus Assimilation

"Integration is not to be confused with 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

The Process for Ecclesial Integration and Inclusion

Here are foundational stages in the larger process of ecclesial integration:

Catholic Identity

Movement 1: Reach Out and Meet People Where They Are

Mission: Visit them with the Good News of Christ.

Affirmation: Affirm their gifts and contributions.

Invitation: Invite them to the faith community as a home away from home.

Movement 2: Demonstrate Hospitality and Make People Feel at Home

Welcoming: Give them the ecclesial space to be themselves.

Identity: Give themroom to develop their own sense of identity.

Trust and Safety: Enable them toadapt to a different culture from a position of strength.

Movement 3: Organize by Developing Ministries and Ministers

Opportunity: They provide for their own ministerial needs and aspirations.

Support: Parish staff and leaders work with them to develop a comprehensive ministry.

Room to Grow: Ministries include the four dimensions of Christian life modeled in the first Christian communities (Acts 2:42-47) and explained in Encuentro and Mission (Living the Present with Enthusiasm, no. 28).


Movement 4: Build Relationships across Cultures and Ministries

Community: Share their stories, religious traditions, and cultural richness with one another.

Celebration: Celebrate faith and life together with other ministries and cultures.

Relationships: Build relationships, community, and unity between different cultural groups and ministries of the parish.

Movement 5: Champion Leadership Development and Formation

Mentoring: Learn and seek opportunities for ongoing faith formation and training for ministry.

Access: Invest time and talent in certificates and degree programs that are accessible.

Recognition: The entire parish community recognizes and supports newcomers in their ministerial roles.

Movement 6: Open Wide the Doors to the Decision-Making Process

Decisions: Provide space at the table where decisions are made on culturally specific ministries.

Leadership: Encourage an active voice on the life and direction of the faith community as a whole.

Representation: Encouragea place in ministry leadership, parish staff, and other decision-making groups.


Movement 7: Strengthen a Sense of Ownership

Discernment: Determinemeaningful ways to be involved in the life of the faith community.

Solidarity: Work towardresponsiveness from all parish staff on the needs and aspirations of theirfamilies and communities.

Authority: Parish leadership and structure recognize newcomers as members on equal terms.

Movement 8: Sow and Reap Full Ownership and Stewardship

Shared responsibility: Newcomers contribute time, talent, and treasure.

Inclusivity: All parish members build a culturally diverse faith community that is their own.

Discipleship: Newcomers are active participants of a community of faith in which all cultures are constantly transformed by gospel values to be leaven for the Kingdom of God in society.

Movement 9: Achieve Full Commitment to the Mission of the Parish

Unity: Strengthen the unity of the parish while honoring its diversity.

Mission: Be alert and ready to invite and welcome newcomers.

Universality: Become "gente-puente" (a bridge-building people) by ministering with Catholics of all cultural backgrounds.

Intergenerational Communication Among Immigrant Communities

Along with the dynamics of intercultural communication that have already been explored in this module, there is a pattern found in immigrant communities that cuts across other particularities. This pattern involves the stances taken in first and second generations.

"First-generation" people are those who immigrate in adulthood. Their life patterns and language skills are already well in place before they arrive in a new land.

"Second-generation" people include those who arrive in the new country as infants or children and those who are born in the new country. Their developmental patterns and language capacity are shaped by the new country more than those of the first generation.

Because their developmental years are already behind them, the first generation tends to view and interact with the new culture through the lens of their home country. They will often struggle to keep those values and to transmit them to their children.

The second generation finds itself caught between the world of their parents and the culture of the land where they are growing up. This may lead to conflict at home with their parents. They sometimes do not speak the language of their parents well, and they find themselves preferring to speak the language of the new country. They may reject patterns of the parents' culture (such as having their marriage partner or their profession chosen by their parents). This is especially the case when the home culture of their parents is collectivist, and the children find themselves living in a predominantly individualist culture.

Outside the home, the second generation may not receive acceptance from their peers because they are "different." They may speak the language of the dominant culture with a slightly foreign accent. They may be profiled as "foreign." Being caught in between cultures can create special challenges for the second generation, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood as their adult identities begin to coalesce. This reality poses significant challenges for youth and young adult ministries in immigrant settings.

Effects of this conflict are sometimes seen in the third generation (i.e., the children of the second generation), especially when the second generation has tried to jettison the cultural identity of their immigrant parents. The third generation may become especially interested in the culture and even the language of their grandparents, causing tension between the third and the second generation.

Language is always an important factor, and it is an index of where the first and the second generation locate themselves vis-à-vis the two cultures.

These generational differences pose unique concerns for youth and young adult ministries and Catholic educational systems in immigrant settings.

Five Principles for Achieving Ecclesial Integration and Inclusion

1.  Articulate a vision of ministry based on ecclesial integration and inclusion:

″Recognize and affirm cultural, linguistic, and racial differences as a gift from God, not a problem to be solved.

″Promote the formation of culturally specific ministries, parish groups, and apostolic movements as a means for conversion and community building.

″Avoid the temptation to expect others to assimilate into a one-size-fits-all youth group, program, or activity.

2.  Foster the inculturation of the Gospel in all cultures:

″Be aware of your own cultural heritage.

″Use the concept of inculturation of the Gospel.

″Be willing to be a bridge-builder rather than a gate-keeper.

″Avoid the tendency to see your culture as better or more valuable than the cultures of others, and always avoid "we—they"language.

″Commit to the spirit of mission of the New Evangelization and its ongoing transformation of all cultures by gospel values.

3.  Plan with the people, not for the people:

″First, listen to and welcome the unique perspectives of the diverse parishioners you are trying to reach.

″Include them—from the beginning—in the development of plans, programs, and activities.

″Avoid planning for others and judging them when they don't show up to your activity.

4.  Broaden your understanding of ministry groups, programs, and structures, and cast a bigger net:

″Recognize the unique experiences, needs, and aspirations of each cultural/ethnic community in your parish.

″Understand that the existence of more than one cultural group in your parish is a blessing.

″Promote the formation of culturally specific groups and apostolic movements.

″Avoid the perception that allowing the formation of culturally specific groups creates division or separation.

″Commit to creating welcoming spaces for all Catholic people living in your parish.

5.  Empower people from different cultures and ethnicities into leadership positions:

″Understand the way in which people from different cultures view leadership, organize themselves, and make decisions.

″Identify indigenous leaders and mentor them into leadership positions in ministry within their own cultural/ethnic community and in the parish as a whole.

″Avoid a mentality of scarcity—"there is not enough for everyone"—and foster a vision of mission and growth that generates more resources and abundance for all.


Brothers and Sisters to Us: United States Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Racism in Our Day. Washington, DC: USCCB, 1979.

CARA. "Parish Survey Project," in The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes. Washington, DC: Georgetown University, 2011.

Pope John Paul II. Ecclesia in America. Washington, DC: USCCB, 2000.

Schreiter, Robert J., CPPS. The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategies. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998.

Strangers No Longer: The Journey of Hope, A Pastoral Letter of the U.S. Bishops on Migration. Washington, DC: USCCB, 2003.

USCCB. Reconciled Through Christ: On Reconciliation and Greater Collaboration Between Hispanic American and African American Catholics.Washington, DC: USCCB, 1997.

USCCB. Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony and Faith. Washington, DC: USCCB, 2001.

USCCB. Encuentro and Mission: A Renewed Pastoral Framework for Hispanic Ministry.Washington, DC: USCCB, 2002.

USCCB. Native American Catholics and the Millennium.Washington, DC: USCCB, 2002.

What We Have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter of the African American Bishops on Evangelization. Washington, DC: USCCB, 1984.