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November 16, 2011

How parishes respect differing cultural groups -
The multidimensional child served by Catholic education -
Ministry at a time when many appear unconvinced that Jesus and the church are one

In this edition:
1. The bishops' most pressing pastoral challenge.
2. Is the church musty or outdated?
3. Scripture, of the essence for youth ministry.
4. A communicator named Jesus.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Is there still an American dream?
b) Catholic education and its multidimensional children;
c) Religious liberty in today's America.
6. How parishes respect different cultural groups.
7. Parish dynamics in multicultural contexts.

1. The Bishops' Most Pressing Pastoral Challenge

"Chilling statistics" that cannot be ignored convey a message to church leaders, a message that "fewer and fewer of our beloved people -- to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith -- are convinced that Jesus and his church are one," Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said Nov. 14 in his address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the bishops' national fall meeting in Baltimore.

The bishops' "most pressing pastoral challenge today" may be to "lead our people to see, meet, hear and embrace anew Jesus in and through his church," Archbishop Dolan said.

Two points to bear in mind when calling attention to the oneness of Christ and the church were accented by the archbishop.

1. First, he spoke of a temptation to resist -- "the temptation to approach the church as merely a system of organizational energy and support that requires maintenance."

Archbishop Dolan recalled a remark made recently in Germany by Pope Benedict XVI, who cautioned that "many see only the outward form of the church," which "makes the church appear as merely one of the many organizations within a democratic society."

But the church, said the archbishop, "is hardly some cumbersome, outmoded club of sticklers, with a medieval bureaucracy, silly human rules on fancy letterhead, one more movement rife with squabbles, opinions, and disagreement."

Instead, he continued, "the church is Jesus -- teaching, healing, saving, serving, inviting; Jesus often 'bruised, derided, cursed, defiled.'" Archbishop Dolan added that "Jesus prefers prophets, not programs; saints, not solutions; conversion of hearts, not calls to action; prayer, not protests."

"Rather than our verbiage," it is the word of God that is preferred, the archbishop made clear.

2. The second point to bear in mind when accenting the oneness of Christ and the church is that "since we are a spiritual family, we should hardly be surprised that the church has troubles, problems" or, "to use the talk-show vocabulary, that our supernatural family has some 'dysfunction,'" Archbishop Dolan said.

He stated, "With contrition and deep regret," the bishops "acknowledge that the members of the church -- starting with us -- are sinners."

Unlike many others, however, Archbishop Dolan said that those who believe in Jesus Christ and the church "interpret the sinfulness of her members not as a reason to dismiss the church or her eternal truths, but to embrace her all the more! The sinfulness of the members of the church reminds us precisely how much we need the church."

He said to the assembly of bishops, "We passionately love our bride with wrinkles, warts and wounds all the more. We bishops repent as well."

2. Is the Catholic Church Musty or Outdated?

Today, many people drift from the church, "get mad at the church, grow lax, join another or just give it all up," Archbishop Dolan observed in his Nov. 14 president's address to the U.S. bishops' meeting in Baltimore. He said, "If this does not cause us pastors to shudder, I do not know what will."

The reasons underlying this present-day situation "are multiple and well-rehearsed, and we need to take them seriously," he stressed. Still, he said, "good news about the church abounds as well."

The world "would often have us believe that culture is light years ahead of a languishing, moribund church," though "the opposite is the case," Archbishop Dolan told the nation's bishops. For, "the church invites the world to a fresh, original place, not a musty or outdated one." He said:

"The church loves God's world like his only begotten Son did. She says 'yes' to everything that is good, decent, honorable and ennobling about the world, and only says 'no' when the world itself negates the dignity of the human person. And, as Father Robert Barron reminds us, 'saying 'no' to a 'no' results in a 'yes.'"

3. Scripture and the Evangelization of Youth

"To evangelize and transform our culture and call it back to its deeply Christian roots, we need a biblical strategy, biblical vocabulary and a biblical vision," Basilian Father Thomas Rosica said Oct. 25 in a speech on the evangelization of youth to priests of the Chicago Archdiocese.

Father Rosica is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto, Ontario, and is known widely for his work with the World Youth Days.

His speech analyzed the pedagogical strengths of the World Youth Days, it pointed to the value of listening in pastoral ministry and discussed the importance of moving forward boldly with evangelization, despite imperfections within the church community.

Those who evangelize were cautioned by Father Rosica not to delay their efforts until the church community is in perfect condition. The truth is, he suggested, that "if we decide to wait until our church and the entire Catholic community is in exemplary spiritual condition, with all questions and doubts resolved, all scandals over, all required funds safely and surely in the bank to provide for our programs and schools, all controversies ended, all Christians and Catholics living in total harmony, nothing will ever get done!"

Father Rosica said: "Christ did not found the church for saints and angels but for sinners -- people like us who strive for goodness and greatness, yet know that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. For over 2,000 years, we have not been in perfect order, and we never will be!"

Scripture's value in evangelization was a key focus of Father Rosica's presentation.

He asked: "Does the Bible play a significant part in our ministry with young people? What biblical stories and images animate our pastoral initiatives with young people? How often have we turned elsewhere to find themes, ideas, fillers, quick fixes or temporary gimmicks for our work with young people?"

Several fears that regularly are expressed to him when he speaks about evangelizing young people were reported by Father Rosica. These fears, he said, "can be obstacles to our becoming an evangelizing church."

-- There is, first, the fear among people who "do not want to impose upon others or imply that they are superior to them in some way."

-- Second, "some Catholics fear the very word 'evangelizing' because they are afraid of being asked questions they cannot answer." Overcoming this fear means learning "more about Christ, the Bible and the church's teachings and history."

-- A third obstacle is "the crisis of biblical literacy." Father Rosica commented: "To evangelize means to spread the good news of Jesus Christ found in the New Testament. How can we possibly announce this good news when the target audience does not know the vocabulary, language and imagery of this good news?"

Some may wonder at times "why people aren't turned on by our stories, our work, and why the young aren't interested in who we are and what we do," Father Rosica said. But he asked: "Did we ever stop to think that maybe part of the reason is that we aren't telling the story in the right way or maybe not at all? Do we view our lives against the backdrop of salvation history and biblical history?"

Father Rosica said that "if the power of God's word in sacred Scripture is to be felt in the life and mission of the church, we must be vigilant to ensure that sacred Scripture has a primordial place in our lives."

4. A Communicator Named Jesus

"Jesus -- the perfect communicator -- is the model for all who seek to communicate the good news today," Father Rosica told Chicago's priests. There is much to be learned, he said, from Jesus' "style of communicating, from his use of parables and stories, from his attentiveness to the different audiences with which he engaged, from his personal involvement with each individual he encounters."

Yet, Father Rosica said, "in the final analysis these different elements point us to the essence of Jesus as one who gives his life, who spends himself gladly for others."

The pedagogy of the risen Lord during his encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is the very pedagogy "at the heart of World Youth Days," Father Rosica explained. This pedagogy includes "accompaniment, listening, teaching and celebrating our faith."

It is important to be bold, creative and courageous in pastoral efforts with young people, Father Rosica proposed. What kind of boldness did he have in mind?

He spoke of a boldness that is not politically correct, first of all. It is a boldness that "unapologetically and unabashedly" proclaims the good news. Furthermore, he said:

"It is a boldness that does not overpower, that is not rude, that does not bully, that is never disrespectful, that never shows off or flaunts gifts that one has received."

Among other points in his Oct. 25 Chicago speech, Father Rosica insisted that evangelization neither is "social ministry nor spiritual ministry," it "is both." He said:

-- "The more the Catholic community shows genuine concern and effective action for alleviating social ills and liberating the poor, the more believable will its Gospel be."

-- Yet, "social ministry will transcend itself only if the Gospel is explicitly proclaimed," in other words, only if the Gospel accompanies the "action and concern" of social ministry.

(Father Rosica's speech appears in the Nov. 17, 2011, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Is There Still an American Dream? "Anyone who likes the idea that politics should be about the clash of radically different worldviews will be an admirer of the way our political life is conducted today. But anyone who seeks from politics a common vision for the country - and a realistic path for realizing that sense of purpose -- will be deeply disappointed. As far as politics is concerned, there is no longer an American Dream because we no longer dream and because we cannot agree on what it means to be an American." (From "The Politics of Extremism," by Alan Wolfe, a political science professor at Jesuit-run Boston College, published this fall by CommonWealth magazine and posted on the Boston College website)

Catholic Education and Its Multidimensional Children: "When we think of a youngster, at home or in school, what do we see? Well, we see someone whom we hope will become a responsible adult member of society. We also see a person whom we hope can develop their talents and abilities to become a productive member of society, able to contribute to the common good of all. We also see a person who has a personal vocation, a call to the fullness of life and love, often expressed in profound friendship, in marriage, in a religious dedication. But we have to keep in mind that every youngster is also a spiritual being, called to know and love God made visible in Christ Jesus and to be happy with God for all eternity. To live without this perspective is to see life without its extra dimension. I suspect the gift of our Christian faith is a bit like donning 3D glasses and seeing everything in its full richness. The same reality is seen by all. But the eyes of faith bring a new and enhancing vision in which we do indeed see life whole." (From the 2011 Tablet Lecture, given Oct. 20 in London by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England)

Religious Freedom in America Now: "Among the challenges we see is a pattern in culture and law to treat religion merely as a private matter between an individual and his or her God. Instead of promoting toleration of differing religious views, certain laws, court decisions and administrative regulations treat religion not as a contributor to our nation's common morality but rather as a divisive and disruptive force better kept out of public life. Over time, the barriers preventing government from interfering in the internal life of religious groups have been lowered. This aids and abets the erosion of religious liberty, which is expressly recognized and protected by the First Amendment, by the imposition of court-mandated 'rights' which have no textual basis in the Constitution, such as those that pertain to abortion and same-sex marriage. Refusal to endorse the taking of innocent human life or to redefine marriage is now portrayed as discriminatory. As a result, the freedom of religious entities to provide services according to their own lights, to defend publicly their teachings and even to choose and manage their own personnel is coming under increased attack." (Excerpts from a Nov. 14 address to the U.S. bishops' national meeting in Baltimore by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the bishops' new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty)

6. How Parishes Respect Different Cultural Groups

The relationship between different cultural groups in a parish should not constitute a "tug of war" or create a situation of "us against them," according to Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., who spoke Oct. 26 in Omaha, Neb. The real question to ask is, he suggested, "How do we build up one another?"

Pastoral ministry in a multicultural church was the archbishop's topic in an address at Jesuit-run Creighton University.

Archbishop Sheehan said respect should be shown for immigrants, whether or not they are legally present in the U.S. "We must respect them, without approving of the violation of immigration law."

The welcome expressed to people, including the welcome expressed in parish offices, is a "great concern" the archbishop has "not only for immigrants, but for other people who have been away from the church," he explained. He said:

"When someone comes to the parish office to arrange a baptism or wedding or funeral, and they are not registered in the parish, they are often turned down."

Archbishop Sheehan noted that "it is not the custom in Mexico to register in parishes." Nonetheless, he said parish offices "should be very careful to welcome even nominal Catholics and to bend over backward to instruct them and help them so their family can receive the sacraments."

He added: "There are many stories of people being turned away because of the harshness that they experience when approaching a parish office. There are ways to respect the norms of the church and at the same time welcome the stranger."

Three basic "levels" on which parishes may find themselves in terms of relating to newcomers were outlined by Archbishop Sheehan.

On one end of the spectrum is the parish in which racial and cultural differences are "seen as defects or problems." At the spectrum's other end is the parish in which these differences are "seen as assets."

The other level falls between those two groups. This level is witnessed in a parish where policies of tolerance may be in place, but where "a consciousness of white power and privilege may also be present," even though there are efforts to recruit "people of color for parish staff and committees."

Archbishop Sheehan said the Hispanic ministry director in the Santa Fe Archdiocese "emphasizes again and again that the church should embody the concept of 'mi casa es su casa,' my house is your house."

New Mexico is "about 50 percent Hispanic, and the Catholic population is about 50 percent Hispanic as well," Archbishop Sheehan pointed out. As for the Santa Fe Archdiocese, he said that "in addition to the Hispanic and Anglo population," it has "about 50,000 Native Americans with their own languages, culture and history."

The archdiocese also includes "a significant number of Vietnamese" and "African-Americans, with their own unique culture to be concerned about," and "other cultures" too.

The archbishop holds that "the presence of many cultures reminds us of the universality of the church," and represents a sign that the church is catholic.

7. Parish Dynamics in Multicultural Settings

There are problems in U.S. culture itself that need to be borne in mind by multicultural parishes, according to Archbishop Sheehan. For example, U.S. culture is "consumeristic and materialistic," and it is a culture where "we tend to measure success by how much we earn and how many things we possess." U.S. culture also "is cynical about truth and all forms of authority," he said.

Moreover, a "dark side" of U.S. culture is found in a "negative attitude toward people of color, toward the poor, toward the new immigrant," he observed.

Archbishop Sheehan advised his audience at Omaha's Creighton University that "in ministering to a multicultural church, we certainly don't want to see our immigrants, no matter what culture they come from, adopt the negative aspects of American culture."

It is necessary that the church "be ready to welcome newcomers, no matter what culture they come from," he said. For, "there is no room for racism or prejudice among our parishioners and parish leaders."

Welcoming the stranger in a multicultural church requires tending to issues of language. Archbishop Sheehan said, for example, that in the Santa Fe Archdiocese, all seminarians "are required to learn Spanish. They study Spanish not only in the seminary but also study in Mexico or Spain." Current priests also are given the opportunity to study Spanish.

Even if most Hispanics in New Mexico speak both Spanish and English, many new arrivals do not, Archbishop Sheehan pointed out. He said, "It is very important for our clergy to speak Spanish in our ministry."

Among other points, Archbishop Sheehan said:

-- "It is essential to identify and train lay leaders in the different cultures represented. There are other urgent needs too. Catechists need to be trained, especially those who have the advantage of being bilingual."

-- It is important "that the people from different cultures listen to each other and hear stories that need to be told. Listening is the greatest gift that we can give to each other in communication."

-- The various cultural groups should "be represented on the liturgy committees." That means "not only different cultural groups in terms of language, but also of age and special interests. Young people should be able to have a voice in the arrangement of the liturgy. Older people have something to say, as well as single and married couples."