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 second module of “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers” (BICM) training focuses on culture and how it works. It aims to explore basic concepts that underlie intercultural competence while developing communication skills needed to function in different kinds of cultures.
In his statement on race relations delivered to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) 2015 spring meeting, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said, “Pope Francis calls each of us to work for a culture of encounter and has encouraged all people of good faith to reach out to those in their community and be truly welcoming.
Let the rich cultural diversity of our local communities be woven together in charity, hospitality and service to one another, to join us together as sisters and brothers.”
Archbishop Kurtz also cited the 1979 U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter, “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” which named racial prejudice as a grave sin that denies the truth and meaning of the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ.
He suggested five concrete ways in which the Catholic community can commit to ending racism and promoting respect for all persons.
Two of his suggestions in particular require us to make the effort to better understand the dynamics of culture. He suggested we make a sincere effort to encounter more fully people of different racial backgrounds with whom we live, work and minister.
And he suggested we pursue ways in which Catholic parishes and neighborhoods can be truly welcoming of families of different racial and religious backgrounds.
So, what is culture? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it is the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place or time. Culture is the learned and shared values, beliefs and behaviors of a group of interacting people; that which defines a person by way of their ethnic background, dress, language, music and traditions.
Culture is more than what we can see or hear, it also refers to the common experiences of a group or community that shape the way its members understand the world. It includes groups that we are born into, such as race, national origin, gender, class or religion and groups that we join. When we think of culture this broadly, we realize that we all belong to many cultures.
Culture influences our views, values, humor, hopes, worries, fears and loyalties. According to BICM, culture has three dimensions (6):
- Cultures have ideas and ways of expressing them (beliefs and values, attitudes, and concepts).
- Cultures have behaviors, like rituals (greetings, praying, praising), ways of relating with each other, ways of raising children, and so on.
- Cultures have material dimensions, such as objects, artifacts, food, dress, art, symbols and architecture.
Some aspects of cultural are visible and represent behaviors and materials, while the larger more invisible elements represent values, beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, patterns of thought, concepts and perceptions. Thus, some of culture is observable; other parts can only be suspected, imagined or intuited.
The parts of culture that are visible or observable are a small part of a much larger whole. Insight into the less visible but more critical pieces is more important to understanding why people do what they do and to building strong, healthy relationships based upon trust and respect.
For instance, while it is great to learn some or all of a language in order to assist with communication, it is far more important to understand the values, beliefs and patterns of thought of a person or group with whom you are trying to build relationships.
Building a more robust understanding of culture will benefit our archdiocese in several ways:
- Each cultural group has unique strengths and perspectives that the larger church can celebrate and benefit from.
- Understanding cultures will help us overcome and prevent racial and ethnic divisions.
- An appreciation of cultural diversity is a key component of building a just and equitable community.
Galatians 3:28 states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We are all children of God; we are one body in this one Lord! Ask yourself, what can I do to better understand cultures that are not mine? Is there anything stopping me from doing so?
Remember that cultural diversity is a gift from God, and we must all seek to better understand those from other cultures with sensitivity and respect.
Charmein Weathers is the multicultural special projects/communications coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Ministry, Archdiocese of Louisville.