Teaching Editorial – A vision for building intercultural competence

M. Annette Mandley-Turner

M. Annette Mandley-Turner

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.

It would not be a stretch to say that Pope Francis understands how diversity is one of our greatest gifts, and it is also our greatest challenge.

Both our Holy Father and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are asking Catholics to embrace the new evangelization with an “intercultural competence” that is manifested in creating what Pope Francis calls a “culture of encounter.”

This culture of encounter suggests that our spiritual interactions, communication, knowledge and relationships with others who we consider different become transformative, open and respectful. This culture also values differences, thereby protecting each person’s cultural sense of identity.

As demographic, social, economic and cultural shifts are transforming society, it is imperative that we look at how to bring parishes, schools and dioceses to new understandings of engaging “the other” of many diverse cultures so that members of these cultures experience ministries that are welcoming, open, authentic and unconditional in actions, words and acceptance.

A resource, produced in 2012 by the U.S. bishops, “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM),” addresses the five areas for building a multicultural vision for the church.

This editorial presents the final module, “Integration, Hospitality, Reconciliation and Mission.” This module provides a vision for diversity and inclusivity in the church and for building intercultural competence for ministers to carry out the mission of evangelization.

The vision of integration and openness to diversity and differences will be impossible if we operate out of the fears and prejudices that hinder our ability to relate to others from different cultures.

Ministry cannot be effective if we allow stereotypes and ignorance to define our opinions about persons who are different or if we assume that our own privileged position is the norm, thereby not understanding the deeply ingrained institutional racism that is present in our ways of being and doing.

Effective integration demands education about persons who are different so that we can understand their cultural histories, traditions, customs and values.

Integration must include dialogue and sensitive communication, realizing that there are many ways of interpreting realities and that a both/and approach is an inclusive view.

Integration is authentic when we allow all persons to have voice and when we have representation, leadership and decision-making that is open to cultural differences. Integration is rooted in an examination of the practices and ways of being and doing that perpetuate, in very subtle ways, attitudes that say, “You do not belong.”

Openness to diversity starts with an attitude that is unconditionally welcoming and genuinely displays hospitality and respect for another culture as well as an appreciation and respect for the differences of diverse cultures.

To show hospitality also means that we take the risk of experiencing that which is not known and that we trust the genuineness and goodness of humanity.

In truly welcoming those who are different, we embody the two great commandments, loving God, the creator of all, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Reconciliation is central to intercultural competence, because in order to see those who are different, we must come to the realization that for far too long, the church also has been a part of the racial divide.

To provide ministry that is authentic and healing, the racism and privilege of the church must be recognized as the sin that has separated and kept people of color as “the other” in parishes and dioceses. Reconciliation demands openness from all involved in ministry to be open to the Spirit’s call to listen and forgive.

There are no winners in division and no health in holding on to past wrongs and divisions. Honest dialogue, prayer, relationship-building and more prayer will foster forgiveness, healing and change.

The change needed will come as we reach out, share the good news and tell the story of how the church is working to integrate and not assimilate. As we continue to open doors, build bridges and connect and interact with cultural groups and those shut out within society, we will evangelize and communicate with intercultural competence, knowledge, attitudes and skills.

Spreading the good news is the mission of the church, and as Pope Francis reminds us, that call must take us out of our comfort zones to minister with those who long for a family and who are poor and forgotten.

Our ability to accompany those who we may have heretofore considered the “other” is critical to this mission. The skills of integration, hospitality, and reconciliation will allow us to realize this mission as we seek the transformation of all cultures by gospel values.

M. Annette

M. Annette Mandley-Turner is executive director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry.

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