This set of teaching editorials focuses on the importance of our understanding of cultural diversity as we seek to carry out the Church’s mission of evangelization.
The Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that the message of the Gospel transcends yet ties together all races, languages and cultures. Embracing this reality and living it day-to-day has become a challenge for our country and our church.
Recognizing how changing demographics of the last several decades have affected our church and communities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to this reality on several levels.
One response included a 2012 document addressed to the local church entitled “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers” (BICM). The document is meant to be a guide for anyone participating in the ministry of the church, with an understanding of cultural diversity not as a problem to be solved but as a characteristic of “the Church’s very identity and mission.”
This focus on diversity should not be perceived as an artificial attachment to the church’s ministry nor as a polite nod toward political correctness. Rather, this focus should be understood as an essential part of the church’s mission to evangelize.
In fact, the first section or module of the BICM lays out the theological connection between diversity and the “New Evangelization” introduced by St. John Paul II in his encyclical “Redemptoris Missio.”
Recognizing that the church’s nature is missionary, meaning to share the “good news” with everyone, the document calls attention to the catholic or universal nature of the church, which invites all people to “a communion in diversity, not in uniformity.”
What does this mean?
The church understands the value of the human person based on the creation story found in Genesis. There, human beings are created in the “image and likeness” of God, and God created humans as unique as snowflakes: No two are exactly alike. Instead, persons are born into specific cultural surroundings: language, customs, values, behaviors, beliefs.
These cultural realities have evolved over time and are diverse due to many factors, from geographical location to ethnicity to national identity.
The BICM recognizes the challenge of bringing together these diverse expressions of the human person around the one table of the Lord. How do we integrate what a particular group might bring to a church community — language, customs, liturgical practices, etc?
How do we respect and uphold traditions and identities already present in a community? These are just a couple of the challenges the document explores.
Welcoming the diversity in our midst is a priority for our archdiocese.
The opening line of the Archdiocese of Louisville Mission Statement reads, “We are the Catholic Church in Central Kentucky, disciples of Jesus Christ, rich in our tradition and growing in our diversity, striving for fullness of life in God.”
There is recognition that the way that Catholicism is practiced within the diverse communities of Jefferson County is a different experience from the practice of Catholicism in surrounding counties like Bullitt, Shelby and Oldham; different from the communities that make up the “Kentucky Holy Lands” and still different from the Southern Kentucky Missions.
The archdiocese, through agencies like the Office of Multicultural Ministry and the Office of Lifelong Formation and Education, views its role as an advocate of a multicultural perspective that supports parishes in their efforts to respond to the needs of their parishioners and to raise awareness of the diversity in their midst.
Even in a parish that appears to be culturally homogeneous, parishioners can benefit as the faith community will have opportunities to be informed about and experience the gift of diversity that may be unrecognized.
Their formation also will assist them in respecting their sisters and brothers from other cultural, racial and ethnic groups. In a real way, their lives are enhanced due to this newly acquired knowledge.
Education about BICM has already begun. The document was first introduced to the priests of the archdiocese at the 2015 Presbyteral Assembly. It was recently incorporated into diaconate formation, which the class of 2016 experienced, and it is now part of the formation processes for the Discipleship Program and the Thea Bowman African American Catholic Leadership Program.
Over the next four weeks, The Record will present a series of articles that break open the document and reflect on the remaining four sections. The intent is to present to the people of the archdiocese a vision for cultural diversity — a vision that our communities need as they welcome new faces to the table of the Lord.
M. ANNETTE MANDLEY-TURNER
Art Turner is the Director of Faith Formation for the Office of Lifelong Formation and Education, and M. Annette Mandley-Turner is the Executive Director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry.